Rules of Professional Conduct

1. Client-Lawyer Relationship

ER 1.10.     Imputation of Conflicts of Interest:  General Rule

(a) While lawyers are associated in a firm, none of them shall knowingly represent a client when any one of them practicing alone would be prohibited from doing so by ERs 1.7 or 1.9, unless the prohibition is based on a personal interest of the prohibited lawyer and does not present a significant risk of materially limiting the representation of the client by the remaining lawyers in the firm.
(b) When a lawyer has terminated an association with a firm, the firm is not prohibited from thereafter representing a person with interests materially adverse to those of a client represented by the formerly associated lawyer and not currently represented by the firm, unless:

(1) the matter is the same or substantially related to that in which the formerly associated lawyer represented the client; and
(2) any lawyer remaining in the firm has information protected by ERs 1.6 and 1.9(c) that is material to the matter. If the only such information is contained in documents or electronically store information maintained by the firm, and the firm adopts screening procedures that are reasonably adequate to prevent access to such documents or electronically stored information by the remaining lawyers, those remaining lawyers will not be considered to have protected information within the meaning of this Rule.

(c) A disqualification prescribed by this Rule may be waived by the affected client under the conditions stated in ER 1.7.

(d) When a lawyer becomes associated with a firm, no lawyer associated in the firm shall knowingly represent a person in a matter in which that lawyer is disqualified under ER 1.9 unless:

(1) the personally disqualified lawyer did not have primary responsibility for the matter that causes the disqualification under Rule 1.9;

(2) the personally disqualified lawyer is timely screened from any participation in the matter and is apportioned no part of the fee therefrom;

(3) written notice is promptly given to any affected former client to enable it to ascertain compliance with the provisions of this Rule, including a description of the particular screening procedures adopted; when they were adopted; a statement by the personally disqualified lawyer and the new firm that the former client's material confidential information has not been disclosed or used in violation of the Rules; and an agreement by the new firm to respond promptly to any written inquiries or objections by the former client about the screening procedure; and

(4) the personally disqualified lawyer and the new firm reasonably believe that the steps taken to accomplish the screening of material confidential information will be effective in preventing such information from being disclosed to the new firm and its client.

(e) The disqualification of lawyers associated in a firm with former or current government lawyers is governed by ER 1.11.


Definition of "Firm"

[1] For purposes of the Rules of Professional Conduct, the term "firm" denotes lawyers in a law partnership, professional corporation, sole proprietorship or other association; or lawyers employed in a legal services organization or the legal department of a corporation or other organization.  See ER 1.0(c).  Whether two or more lawyers constitute a firm within this definition can depend on the specific facts.  See ER 1.0, Comments [2] – [4].

Principles of Imputed Disqualification

[2] The rule of imputed disqualification stated in paragraph (a) gives effect to the principle of loyalty to the client as it applies to lawyers who practice in a law firm.  Such situations can be considered from the premise that a firm of lawyers is essentially one lawyer for purposes of the rules governing loyalty to the client, or from the premise that each lawyer is vicariously bound by the obligation of loyalty owed by each lawyer with whom the lawyer is associated.  Paragraph (a) operates only among the lawyers currently associated in a firm.  When a lawyer moves from one firm to another, the situation is governed by ERs 1.9(b) and 1.10(b).

[3] The rule in paragraph (a) does not prohibit representation where neither questions of client loyalty nor protection of confidential information are presented.  Where one lawyer in a firm could not effectively represent a given client because of strong political beliefs, for example, but that lawyer will do no work on the case and the personal beliefs of the lawyer will not materially limit the representation by others in the firm, the firm should not be disqualified.  On the other hand, for example, if an opposing party in a case were owned by a lawyer in the law firm, and others in the firm are reasonably likely to be materially limited in pursuing the matter because of loyalty to that lawyer, the personal disqualification of the lawyer would be imputed to all others in the firm.  A disqualification arising under ER 1.8(l) from a family or cohabiting relationship is personal and ordinarily is not imputed to other lawyers with whom the lawyers are associated.

[4] The rule in paragraph (a) also does not prohibit representation by others in the law firm where the person prohibited from involvement in a matter is a nonlawyer, such as a paralegal or legal secretary.  Nor does paragraph (a) prohibit representation if the lawyer is prohibited from acting because of events before the person became a lawyer, for example, work that the person did while a law student.  Such persons, however, ordinarily must be screened from any personal participation in the matter to avoid communication to others in the firm of confidential information that both the nonlawyers and the firm have a legal duty to protect.  See ERs 1.0(k) and 5.3.

[5] ER 1.10(b) operates to permit a law firm, under certain circumstances, to represent a person with interests directly adverse to those of a client represented by a lawyer who formerly was associated with the firm.  The Rule applies regardless of when the formerly associated lawyer represented the client.  However, the law firm may not represent a person with interests adverse to those of a present client of the firm, which would violate ER 1.7.  Moreover, the firm may not represent the person where the matter is the same or substantially related to that in which the formerly associated lawyer represented the client and any other lawyer currently in the firm has material information protected by ERs 1.6 and 1.9(c). For purposes of determining whether any current lawyer in the firm has such material information, information maintained by a firm in the form of documents, including electronically stored information, will not be imputed to the remaining lawyers if the firm adopts screening procedures that are reasonably adequate under the circumstances to prevent the remaining lawyers from accessing such information. In determining whether screening procedures are reasonably adequate, factors to be considered include whether technology is available and has been implemented to restrict lawyer access to electronically stored information maintained by the firm and whether adequate notice is provided to lawyers in the firm regarding the screening procedures. Further guidance is provided in ER 1.0, comments [8]--[10]. In addition, the firm should consider whether its lawyers have access to internal electronic databases that utilize research memoranda or other work product from past client representations, to ensure that any protected information is removed from such databases or that access is appropriately restricted.

[6] ER 1.10(c) removes imputation with the informed consent of the affected client or former client under the conditions stated in ER 1.7.  The conditions stated in ER 1.7 require the lawyer to determine that the representation is not prohibited by ER 1.7(b) and that each affected client or former client has given informed consent to the representation, confirmed in writing.  In some cases, the risk may be so severe that the conflict may not be cured by client consent.  For a discussion of the effectiveness of client waivers of conflicts that might arise in the future, see ER 1.7, Comment [21].  For a definition of informed consent, see ER 1.0(e).

[7] Where a lawyer has joined a private firm after having represented the government, imputation is governed by ER 1.11(a), not this Rule.  Under ER 1.11(c), where a lawyer represents the government after having served clients in private practice, nongovernmental employment or in another government agency, former-client conflicts are not imputed to government lawyers associated with the individually disqualified lawyer.

[8] Where a lawyer is prohibited from engaging in certain transactions under ER 1.8, paragraph (k) of that Rule, and not this Rule, determines whether that prohibition also applies to other lawyers associated in a firm with the personally prohibited lawyer.

Comment [2016 amendment]

[9] Rule 1.10(d) removes the imputation otherwise required by ER 1.10(a), but unlike section (c), it does so in some cases without requiring that there be informed consent by the former client. In those cases and in cases where client consent is obtained, the rule requires that the procedures and requirements laid out in sections (d)(3) and (4) be followed. Factors to be considered in determining the adequacy of screening procedures include whether technology is available and has been implemented to restrict lawyer access to electronically stored information maintained by the firm. Other relevant circumstances may include the size of the matter in relation to the overall business of the firm, the number of lawyers in the firm that are actively involved in the matter that is the subject of the screening measures, or other factors that may make it difficult to implement a screen that is reasonably adequate to ensure that protected information is not disclosed, even inadvertently. Additional guidance is provided in ER 1.0, comments [8]-[10]. There may be some circumstances when, taking all factors into account, screening procedures will not be reasonably adequate to guard against inadvertent disclosure of protected information. Lawyers should also be aware that even when screening procedures have been adopted that comply with this Rule, tribunals may consider additional factors in ruling upon motions to disqualify a lawyer from pending litigation.
[10] Paragraph (d)(2) does not prohibit the screened lawyer from receiving a salary or partnership share established by prior independent agreement, but the lawyer may not receive compensation directly related to the matter in which the lawyer is disqualified.
[11] The requirements of ERs 5.1 and 5.3 should be considered in implementing screening procedures under this Rule. If the screened lawyer or the new firm become aware that the screening procedures have been violated or are ineffective, reasonable steps should be taken to remedy the deficiencies and prevent prejudice to the impacted client.


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