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Representation of Police Organization and its Members

Adopted: July 14, 1989

Opinion rules that subject to general conflict of interest rules, a lawyer may represent police officers who are referred by a professional organization of which they are members on a case-by-case basis and also represent criminal defendants.

Inquiry #1:

Attorney A is engaged in the general practice of law in North Carolina and occasionally represents criminal defendants. PBA, an organization of police officers, maintains a list of attorneys willing to represent PBA members in civil and criminal matters. Attorneys on the PBA list are not paid a retainer fee, and may accept or reject cases as they arise. The attorneys represent the individual PBA members, although fees are paid by the statewide PBA organization.

If Attorney A places his name on the list of attorneys willing to represent PBA members, will he thereby be precluded from representing criminal defendants in any other matter?

Opinion #1:

Attorney A will not be automatically precluded from representing all criminal defendants simply by placing his name on PBA's list of attorneys willing to handle matters for PBA members. Once Attorney A handles a PBA case, however, he may thereafter be disqualified from representing either a criminal defendant or a PBA member, depending on the particular facts.

For instance, if Attorney A accepts a case on behalf of a PBA member, Rule 5.1(a) would prohibit Attorney A from accepting any suit in which the client's interests are adverse to those of the PBA member, unless (1) Attorney A can reasonably conclude that he can represent the PBA member and the new client and (2) both clients consent to the multiple representation after full disclosure of the risks involved.

Moreover, Rule 5.1(d) forever precludes Attorney A from representing a second client in a matter substantially related to the matter which Attorney A handled for the PBA member, unless the PBA member consents to the later representation.

Inquiry #2:

Will the answer be different if Attorney A simply agrees to handle occasional research projects for the local PBA chapter on matters of general interest, such as employment law?

Opinion #2:

The same general analysis applies if Attorney A agrees to handle research matters for PBA on a case-by-case basis. In the case of research, however, the client appears to be PBA as an organization, rather than an individual PBA member. Thus, Attorney A may not simultaneously do research for PBA and handle a matter for a client whose interests are adverse to PBA.

Inquiry #3:

Will the answer be different if Attorney A serves as state and/or local counsel to the PBA chapter as well as undertaking occasional representation as set out in question I?

Opinion #3:

If Attorney A maintains a continuous relationship with PBA, by serving as its local and/or state counsel, Attorney A may not simultaneously represent any client whose interests are adverse to PBA or its members unless Attorney A (1) reasonably believes that he may adequately represent both clients' interests despite the conflict and (2) both PBA and the other client consent after full disclosure of the conflict and the risks involved.

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