Rule 1.12 Organization as a Client

(a) A lawyer employed or retained by an organization represents the entity. While the lawyer in the ordinary course of working relationships may report to, and accept direction from, an entity's duly authorized constituents, in the situations described in paragraph (b) the lawyer shall proceed as reasonably necessary in the best interest of the organization without involving unreasonable risks of disrupting the organization and of revealing information relating to the representation to persons outside the organization.

(b) A lawyer representing an organization must take reasonable remedial actions whenever the lawyer learns or knows that:

(1) an officer, employee, or other person associated with the organization has committed or intends to commit a violation of a legal obligation to the organization or a violation of law which reasonably might be imputed to the organization;

(2) the violation is likely to result in substantial injury to the organization; and

(3) the violation is related to a matter within the scope of the lawyer's representation of the organization.

(c) Except where prior disclosure to persons outside the organization is required by law or other Rules, a lawyer shall first attempt to resolve a violation by taking measures within the organization. In determining the initial procedures, actions or measures that are reasonably necessary in order to comply with paragraphs (a) and (b), the lawyer shall give due consideration to the seriousness of the violation and its consequences, the scope and nature of the lawyer's representation, the responsibility in the organization and the apparent motivation of the person involved, the policies of the organization concerning such matters, and any other relevant considerations. Such procedures, actions and measures may include, but are not limited to, the following:  

(1) asking reconsideration of the matter

(2) advising that a separate legal opinion on the matter be sought for presentation to appropriate authority in the organization; and

(3) referring the matter to higher authority in the organization, including, if warranted by the seriousness of the matter, referral to the highest authority that can act in behalf of the organization as determined by applicable law. 

(d) Upon a lawyer's resignation or termination of the relationship in compliance with Rule 1.15 , a lawyer is excused from further proceeding as required by paragraphs (a), (b) and (c), and any further obligations of the lawyer are determined by Rule 1.05

(e) In dealing with an organization's directors, officers, employees, members, shareholders or other constituents, a lawyer shall explain the identity of the client when it is apparent that the organization's interests are adverse to those of the constituents with whom the lawyer is dealing or when explanation appears reasonably necessary to avoid misunderstanding on their part.


Comment - Rule 1.12

The Entity as the Client

1. A lawyer employed or retained to represent an organization represents the organization as distinct from its directors, officers, employees, members, shareholders or other constituents. Unlike individual clients who can speak and decide finally and authoritatively for themselves, an organization can speak and decide only through its agents or constituents such as its officers or employees. In effect, the lawyer-client relationship must be maintained through a constituent who acts as an intermediary between the organizational client and the lawyer. This fact requires the lawyer under certain conditions to be concerned whether the intermediary legitimately represents the organizational client.

2. As used in this Rule, the constituents of an organizational client, whether incorporated or an unincorporated association, include its directors, officer, employees, shareholders, members, and others serving in capacities similar to those positions or capacities. This Rule applies not only to lawyers representing corporations but to those representing an organization such as an unincorporated association, union, or other, entity.

3. When one of the constituents of an organizational client communicates with the organization's lawyer in that person's organizational capacity, the communication is protected by Rule 1.05. Thus, by way of example, if an officer of an organizational client requests its lawyers to investigate allegations of wrongdoing, interviews made in the course of that investigation between the lawyer and the client's employees or other constituents are covered by Rule 1.05. The lawyer may not disclose to such constituents information relating to the representation except for disclosures permitted by Rule 1.05.

Clarifying the Lawyer's Role

4. There are times when the organization's interest may be or become adverse to those of one or more of its constituents. In such circumstances the lawyers should advise any constituent, whose interest the lawyer finds adverse to that of the organization of the conflict or potential conflict of interest, that the lawyer cannot represent such constituent, and that such person may wish to obtain independent representation. Care should be taken to assure that the individual understands that, when there is such adversity of interest, the lawyer for the organization cannot provide legal representation for that constituent individual, and that discussions between the lawyer for the organization and the individual may not be privileged insofar as that individual is concerned. Whether such a warning should be given by the lawyer for the organization to any constituent individual may turn on the facts of each case.

5. A lawyer representing an organization may, of course, also represent any of its directors, officers, employees, members, shareholders, or other constituents, subject to the provisions of Rule 1.06. If the organization's consent to the dual representation is required by Rule 1.06, the consent of the organization should be given by the appropriate official or officials of the organization other than the individual who is to be represented, or by the shareholders.

Decisions by Constituents

6. When constituents of the organization make decisions for it, the decisions ordinarily must be accepted by the lawyer even if their utility or prudence is doubtful. Decisions concerning policy and operations, including ones entailing serious risk, are not as such in the lawyer's province. However, different considerations arise when the lawyer knows, in regard to a matter within the scope of the lawyer's responsibility, that the organization is likely to be substantially injured by the action of a constituent that is in violation of law or in violation of a legal obligation to the organization. In such circumstances, the lawyer must take reasonable remedial measure. See paragraph (b). It may be reasonably necessary, for example, for the lawyer to ask the constituent to reconsider the matter. If that fails, or if the matter is of sufficient seriousness and importance to the organization, it may be reasonably necessary for the lawyer to take steps to have the matter reviewed by a higher authority in the organization. The stated policy of the organization may define circumstances and prescribe channels for such review, and a lawyer should encourage the formulation of such a policy. Even in the absence of organization policy, however, the lawyer may have an obligation to refer a matter to higher authority, depending on the seriousness of the matter and whether the constituent in question has apparent motives to act at variance with the organization's interest. At some point it may be useful or essential to obtain an independent legal opinion.

7. In some cases, it may be reasonably necessary for the lawyer to refer the matter to the organization's highest responsible authority. See paragraph (c)(3). Ordinarily, that is the board of directors or similar governing body. However, applicable law may prescribe that under certain conditions highest authority reposes elsewhere, such as in the independent directors of a corporation. Even that step may be unsuccessful. The ultimate and difficult ethical question is whether the lawyer should circumvent the organization's highest authority when it persists in a course of action that is clearly violative of law or of a legal obligation to the organization and is likely to result in substantial injury to the organization. These situations are governed by Rule 1.05; see paragraph (d) of this Rule. If the lawyer does not violate a provision of Rule 1.02 or Rule 1.05 by doing so, the lawyer's further remedial action, after exhausting remedies within the organization, may include revealing information relating to the representation to persons outside the organization. If the conduct of the constituent of the organization is likely to result in death or serious bodily injury to another, the lawyer may have a duty of revelation under Rule 1.05(e). The lawyer may resign, of course, in accordance with Rule 1.15, in which event the lawyer is excused from further proceeding as required by paragraphs (a), (b), and (c), and any further obligations are determined by Rule 1.05.

Relation to Other Rules

8. The authority and responsibility provided in this Rule are concurrent with the authority and responsibility provided in other Rules. In particular, this Rule is consistent with the lawyer's responsibility under Rules 1.05, 1.08, 1.15, 3.03 and 4.01. If the lawyer's services are being used by an organization to further a crime or fraud by the organization, Rule 1.02(c) can be applicable.

Government Agency

9. The duty defined in this Rule applies to governmental organizations. However, when the client is a governmental organization, a different balance may be appropriate between maintaining confidentiality and assuring that the wrongful official act is prevented or rectified, for public business is involved. In addition, duties of lawyers employed by the government or lawyers in military service may be defined by statutes and regulations. Therefore, defining precisely the identity of the client and prescribing the resulting obligations of such lawyers may be more difficult in the government context. Although in some circumstances the client may be a specific agency, it is generally the government as a whole. For example, if the action or failure to act involves the head of a bureau, either the department of which the bureau is a part or the government as a whole may be the client for the purpose of this Rule. Moreover, in a matter involving the conduct of government officials, a government lawyer may have authority to question such conduct more extensively than that of a lawyer for a private organization in similar circumstances. This Rule does not limit that authority. See Preamble: Scope.

Derivative Actions

10. Under generally prevailing law, the shareholders or members of a corporation may bring suit to compel the directors to perform their legal obligations in the supervision of the organization. Members of unincorporated associations have essentially the same right. Such an action may be brought nominally by the organization, but usually is, in fact, a legal controversy over management of the organization.

11. The question can arise whether counsel for the organization may defend such an action. The proposition that the organization is the lawyer's client does not alone resolve the issue. Most derivative actions are a normal incident of an organization's affairs, to be defended by the organization's lawyer like any other suit. However, if the claim involves serious charges of wrongdoing by those in control of the organization, a conflict may arise between the lawyer's duty to the organization and the lawyer's relationship with those managing or controlling its affairs.