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96-11 An attorney who has secured information from an individual in the context of a free initial office conference, in which legal advice has been sought and given in circumstances reasonably likely to create an expectation of confidentiality, is required to treat such information as if it had been received in the course of representation, even if the conference does not result in the individual engaging the attorney for further services. Any confidences or secrets obtained as a result of the conference continue to be protected thereafter, and the attorney may not disclose such information, even if the attorney determines that the individual has presented information to a tribunal that is contradicted by the information previously given to the attorney.

96-10 Where the true owner of trust account funds cannot be identified and where the funds, totaling less than $1,500, appear to have been abandoned, the most prudent alternative may be to arrange for the transfer of those funds to the Vermont Bar Foundation.

96-09 Information imparted to a lawyer by a prospective client seeking legal representation is generally protected from further disclosure or use under DR 4-l0l, even though the lawyer does not ultimately work for the would-be client. However, if the lawyer takes adequate measures to limit the information initially imparted by the prospective client, and no representation relationship is created, the lawyer may continue to represent, or to undertake representation of another client in the same or related matter. When the subject matter of the discussion between the prospective client and the lawyer, or a member of her or his firm, is not critical to the representation of either the existing or new client in the same or related matter, the lawyer need not withdraw from either representation.

96-08 A law firm may not create an employee stock ownership plan ("ESOP") using the stock of the law firm. Such a plan would be contrary to the Disciplinary Rules regarding lawyers engaging in the practice of law with non-lawyers. The Disciplinary Rules prohibit the ownership of any interest in a law firm by non-lawyers. In addition, the proposed ESOP would require that a lawyer in the firm act as the trustee of the ESOP. The attorney who was both a member of the firm and the trustee of the ESOP would face an impermissible and unavoidable conflict of interest in attempting to perform the necessary functions of both roles.

96-07 An attorney representing a client in a matter in which an adverse party is a corporation represented by counsel may communicate with a former employee of the corporation about the matter without the consent of the corporation's counsel.

96-06 An attorney, acting on behalf of a client, may write letters to the mayor, members of the city council and the city manager concerning such matters as handicapped access to city council chambers, information concerning the expenditure of city funds, and other matters, not involved in direct disputes or negotiations between the attorney's client and the city, despite the fact the city retains a private attorney to represent the city generally.

96-05 It is impermissible for a Lawyer representing personal injury claimants to execute a proposed "Medical Lien" form from client's health care provider agreeing to protect the interests of the health care provider, if to do so may place Lawyer in conflict with client's interests.

96-04 An attorney who contracts with a state office to provide representation for the office may not represent private clients in other cases in which the office is a party unless both parties consent after full disclosure of the possible effect of such representation on the exercise of the attorney's independent professional judgment.

96-03 Not Published.

96-02 It is permissible for an assigned attorney to represent a criminal defendant even though the defendant (a) is subject to payment of a fee to a special fund for Public Defenders only upon being found guilty of an offense (DWI cases), and (b) may be required to pay part or all of the costs of representation by assigned counsel by order of court entered either at the time of assignment of counsel or subsequent to the assignment, including cases where the defendant is accused of violating probation for not having paid court­ordered sums to the Public Defender Special Fund.

96-01 An attorney who represents adult children who have been appointed as co-administrators of their parent's estate and has brought a wrongful death action should not represent any of the heirs of the decedent in a distribution action pursuant to 14 V.S.A. § 1492, unless all the heirs are in agreement as to the distribution and give consent to the representation.


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1978-Present Index to the Advisory Ethics Opinions of the VBA Committee on Professional Responsibility