The Florida Bar

Ethics Opinion

Opinion 79-5

Advisory ethics opinions are not binding.
A legal services organization may provide certain types of information to a county funding
agency only with the consent of the respective clients of the organization.

EC 4-3, DR 4-101(A), (B), (C), (D); Canon 4
Vice Chairman Mead stated the opinion of the committee:
The issue presented is the type of information a legal services organization
may be required to furnish to a county funding agency.

DR 4-101(B)(1) states that, except as permitted under DR 4-101(C) and (D), a lawyer
shall not knowingly reveal a confidence or secret of his client. DR 4-101(A) defines
“confidence” as information protected by the attorney-client privilege under applicable law, and
“secret” as other information gained in the professional relationship that the client has requested
be held inviolate or the disclosure of which would be embarrassing or would be likely to be
detrimental to the client. DR 4-101(C) permits the lawyer to reveal confidences or secrets only
with the consent of the client and only after full disclosure. The Code of Professional
Responsibility makes no distinction between a legal aid office and a private law office, and
attorneys employed by a legal services organization must preserve the confidences and secrets of
their clients to the same extent as any other attorney. Although we cannot make a determination
as to what constitutes a “confidence” in a particular case, as deciding what is privileged is a
matter of law, information gathered from a client by a legal aid office is likely to consist of
“confidences” and “secrets,” as defined above, and in such instances a legal aid office must
comply with Canon 4.
We note that EC 4-3 allows an attorney to “give limited information from his files to an
outside agency necessary for statistical, bookkeeping, accounting, data processing, banking,
printing or other legitimate purposes,” but only if the client does not otherwise direct. The
consent of the client, then, remains the key. Accordingly, it is our opinion that if the legal
services organization advises the client that certain specific information will be divulged to an
outside agency, and receives from that client written authorization for such disclosure, the
transmittal of information—strictly limited to the data for which consent has been received—
would be permitted.