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Communication with Represented Opposing Party Via a Witness Deposition in Unrelated Litigation

Adopted: July 16, 2004

Opinion rules that a lawyer may ask questions of a deponent that were recommended by another lawyer, although the deponent is the defendant in the other lawyer's case, provided notice of the deposition is given to the deponent's lawyer.

Inquiry #1:

Attorney A represents Roe, a plaintiff in a medical malpractice lawsuit against Dr. Jones (Lawsuit #1). Dr. Jones is represented by Attorney X. Attorney B represents Doe, a plaintiff in an entirely different medical malpractice lawsuit against Dr. Smith (Lawsuit #2). Dr. Smith is represented by Attorney Y. The two cases are unrelated and involve different plaintiffs, hospitals, defendants, and venues. Attorney A and Attorney B are also in different law firms. The medical treatment/procedure that is the basis for the malpractice claims is the same in both lawsuits.

At the request of Attorney Y, Dr. Jones agrees to act as an expert witness for the defense in Lawsuit #2. Attorney B schedules Dr. Jones' deposition. Prior to the deposition, Attorney A hears that the defendant in his lawsuit will be testifying as an expert witness in Lawsuit #2. Attorney A asks Attorney B to include a series of questions in the deposition of Dr. Jones. The questions do not relate to the specific facts in either case but rather ask the doctor to explain or opine about the medical treatment/procedure that is at issue. The answers to the questions will be relevant to both lawsuits. Attorney A does however hope that the questions will solicit answers from Dr. Jones that will be helpful to the plaintiff's case against Dr. Jones. Attorney A does not notify Attorney X that he has submitted questions for Dr. Jones to Attorney B.

Is Attorney A violating the prohibition in Rule 4.2 on communications with a represented party?

Opinion #1:

No. Rule 4.2(a) of the Rules of Professional Conduct prohibits a lawyer, during the representation of a client, from communicating about the subject of the representation with a person the lawyer knows to be represented by another lawyer in the matter unless the other lawyer consents or the communication is authorized by law. A lawyer may not circumvent the prohibition in the rule by asking another person to engage in the prohibited communications for him. Nevertheless, lawyers are encouraged to consult with other lawyers who practice in the same field or who handle similar cases in order that they might learn from each other and thereby improve the representation of their clients. See, e.g., Rule 1.1 ("A lawyer shall not handle a legal matter that the lawyer knows of should know he or she is not competent to handle without associating with a lawyer who is competent to handle the matter….).

Inquiry #2:

Attorney A would also like Attorney B to include questions in the deposition that relate to the treatment of Roe and the facts specifically at issue in Lawsuit #1. May Attorney B ask these questions?

Opinion #2:

Yes, provided, however, if the proposed questions will probe the facts and circumstances at issue in Lawsuit #1, Attorney A must notify Attorney X of the date and location of the deposition. Rule 4.2 helps to prevent the dangers of overreaching, interference with the client-lawyer relationship, and uncounselled disclosure of information relating to the representation. In the current inquiry, these dangers can be avoided if Dr. Jones's lawyer is notified of the scheduled deposition of Attorney X's client so that Attorney X may chose to attend the deposition. The duty to provide this notice falls upon Attorney A, the lawyer for the plaintiff in the action against Dr. Jones, because the potential for unrepresented communication arises in that lawsuit.

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