SUING A CLIENT FOR FEE¾ CONFIDENCES OF A CLIENT¾ When justice requires an attorney to sue a client for his fee it is not unethical for the attorney to use confidential information obtained from the client where clearly necessary to protect his rights.
Canons 13, 34. ABA Canons 14, 37.
An attorney has exhausted all reasonable efforts to collect a reasonable fee from his client and suit is necessary if the fee is to be collected. During his representation of the client the attorney has gained confidential information, but otherwise obtainable, concerning assets of the client and those assets must be reached if the fee is to be collected. Under these circumstances may the attorney ethically pursue such assets of his client?
This question has been squarely answered in the affirmative by ABA Opinion 250 (June, 1943) and we unanimously approve.
Controversies with clients concerning fees, of course, should be avoided wherever reasonably possible but an attorney is entitled to receive reasonable compensation for his services and if all reasonable collection efforts are fruitless it is not unethical for an attorney to sue his client as a last resort.
The time-honored legal principle that confidences of a client are to be protected and preserved is expressly covered by Texas Canon 34 and ABA Canon 37 and an attorney may not use such confidences to his own private advantage. However, there are well recognized exceptions to the general rule and the client should not be permitted to take advantage of the rule to defeat just rights of the attorney growing out of the attorney-client relation. The policy of protecting a client's confidence does not require that the attorney be made a victim thereof, and in pursuing his client's hidden assets the attorney is not using his client's confidence for private gain but is merely protecting his own just rights. (8-0).