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Rule 1.2 Scope Of Representation and Allocation of Authority between Client and Lawyer

(a) Subject to paragraphs (c) and (d), a lawyer shall abide by a client's decisions concerning the objectives of representation and, as required by Rule 1.4, shall consult with the client as to the means by which they are to be pursued. A lawyer may take such action on behalf of the client as is impliedly authorized to carry out the representation.

(1) A lawyer shall abide by a client's decision whether to settle a matter. In a criminal case, the lawyer shall abide by the client's decision, after consultation with the lawyer, as to a plea to be entered, whether to waive jury trial and whether the client will testify.

(2) A lawyer does not violate this rule by acceding to reasonable requests of opposing counsel that do not prejudice the rights of a client, by being punctual in fulfilling all professional commitments, by avoiding offensive tactics, or by treating with courtesy and consideration all persons involved in the legal process.

(3) In the representation of a client, a lawyer may exercise his or her professional judgment to waive or fail to assert a right or position of the client.

(b) A lawyer's representation of a client, including representation by appointment, does not constitute an endorsement of the client's political, economic, social or moral views or activities.

(c) A lawyer may limit the scope of the representation if the limitation is reasonable under the circumstances.

(d) A lawyer shall not counsel a client to engage, or assist a client, in conduct that the lawyer knows is criminal or fraudulent, but a lawyer may discuss the legal consequences of any proposed course of conduct with a client and may counsel or assist a client to make a good faith effort to determine the validity, scope, meaning or application of the law.


Allocation of Authority between Client and Lawyer

[1] Paragraph (a) confers upon the client the ultimate authority to determine the purposes to be served by legal representation, within the limits imposed by law and the lawyer's professional obligations. The decisions specified in paragraph (a), such as whether to settle a civil matter, must also be made by the client. See Rule 1.4(a)(1) for the lawyer's duty to communicate with the client about such decisions. With respect to the means by which the client's objectives are to be pursued, the lawyer shall consult with the client as required by Rule 1.4(a)(2) and may take such action as is impliedly authorized to carry out the representation. Lawyers are encouraged to treat opposing counsel with courtesy and to cooperate with opposing counsel when it will not prevent or unduly hinder the pursuit of the objective of the representation. To this end, a lawyer may waive a right or fail to assert a position of a client without first obtaining the client's consent. For example, a lawyer may consent to an extension of time for the opposing party to file pleadings or discovery without obtaining the client's consent.

[2] On occasion, however, a lawyer and a client may disagree about the means to be used to accomplish the client's objectives. Clients normally defer to the special knowledge and skill of their lawyer with respect to the means to be used to accomplish their objectives, particularly with respect to technical, legal and tactical matters. Conversely, lawyers usually defer to the client regarding such questions as the expense to be incurred and concern for third persons who might be adversely affected. Because of the varied nature of the matters about which a lawyer and client might disagree and because the actions in question may implicate the interests of a tribunal or other persons, this Rule does not prescribe how such disagreements are to be resolved. Other law, however, may be applicable and should be consulted by the lawyer. The lawyer should also consult with the client and seek a mutually acceptable resolution of the disagreement. If such efforts are unavailing and the lawyer has a fundamental disagreement with the client, the lawyer may withdraw from the representation. See Rule 1.16(b)(4). Conversely, the client may resolve the disagreement by discharging the lawyer. See Rule 1.16(a)(3).

[3] At the outset of a representation, the client may authorize the lawyer to take specific action on the client's behalf without further consultation. Absent a material change in circumstances and subject to Rule 1.4, a lawyer may rely on such an advance authorization. The client may, however, revoke such authority at any time.

[4] In a case in which the client appears to be suffering diminished capacity, the lawyer's duty to abide by the client's decisions is to be guided by reference to Rule 1.14.

Independence from Client's Views or Activities

[5] Legal representation should not be denied to people who are unable to afford legal services, or whose cause is controversial or the subject of popular disapproval. By the same token, representing a client does not constitute approval of the client's views or activities.

Agreements Limiting Scope of Representation

[6] The scope of services to be provided by a lawyer may be limited by agreement with the client or by the terms under which the lawyer's services are made available to the client. When a lawyer has been retained by an insurer to represent an insured, for example, the representation may be limited to matters related to the insurance coverage. A limited representation may be appropriate because the client has limited objectives for the representation. In addition, the terms upon which representation is undertaken may exclude specific means that might otherwise be used to accomplish the client's objectives. Such limitations may exclude actions that the client thinks are too costly or that the lawyer regards as repugnant or imprudent.

[7] Although this Rule affords the lawyer and client substantial latitude to limit the representation, the limitation must be reasonable under the circumstances. If, for example, a client's objective is limited to securing general information about the law the client needs in order to handle a common and typically uncomplicated legal problem, the lawyer and client may agree that the lawyer's services will be limited to a brief telephone consultation. Such a limitation, however, would not be reasonable if the time allotted was not sufficient to yield advice upon which the client could rely. Although an agreement for a limited representation does not exempt a lawyer from the duty to provide competent representation, the limitation is a factor to be considered when determining the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation. See Rule 1.1.

[8] Although paragraph (c) does not require that the client's informed consent to a limited representation be in writing, a specification of the scope of representation will normally be a necessary part of any written communication of the rate or basis of the lawyer's fee. See Rule 1.0(f) for the definition of "informed consent."

[9] All agreements concerning a lawyer's representation of a client must accord with the Rules of Professional Conduct and other law. See, e.g. , Rules 1.1, 1.8 and 5.6.

Criminal, Fraudulent and Prohibited Transactions

[10] Paragraph (d) prohibits a lawyer from knowingly counseling or assisting a client to commit a crime or fraud. This prohibition, however, does not preclude the lawyer from giving an honest opinion about the actual consequences that appear likely to result from a client's conduct. Nor does the fact that a client uses advice in a course of action that is criminal or fraudulent of itself make a lawyer a party to the course of action. There is a critical distinction between presenting an analysis of legal aspects of questionable conduct and recommending the means by which a crime or fraud might be committed with impunity. There is also a distinction between giving a client legitimate advice about asset protection and assisting in the illegal or fraudulent conveyance of assets.

[11] When the client's course of action has already begun and is continuing, the lawyer's responsibility is especially delicate. The lawyer is required to avoid assisting the client, for example, by drafting or delivering documents that the lawyer knows are fraudulent or by suggesting how the wrongdoing might be concealed. A lawyer may not continue assisting a client in conduct that the lawyer originally supposed was legally proper but then discovers is criminal or fraudulent. The lawyer must, therefore, withdraw from the representation of the client in the matter. See Rule 1.16(a). In some cases, withdrawal alone might be insufficient. It may be necessary for the lawyer to give notice of the fact of withdrawal and to disaffirm any opinion, document, affirmation or the like. In extreme cases, substantive law may require a lawyer to disclose information relating to the representation to avoid being deemed to have assisted the client's crime or fraud. See Rule 4.1.

[12] Where the client is a fiduciary, the lawyer may be charged with special obligations in dealings with a beneficiary.

[13] Paragraph (d) applies whether or not the defrauded party is a party to the transaction. Hence, a lawyer must not participate in a transaction to effectuate criminal or fraudulent avoidance of tax liability. Paragraph (d) does not preclude undertaking a criminal defense incident to a general retainer for legal services to a lawful enterprise. The last clause of paragraph (d) recognizes that determining the validity or interpretation of a statute or regulation may require a course of action involving disobedience of the statute or regulation or of the interpretation placed upon it by governmental authorities.

[14] If a lawyer comes to know or reasonably should know that a client expects assistance not permitted by the Rules of Professional Conduct or other law or if the lawyer intends to act contrary to the client's instructions, the lawyer must consult with the client regarding the limitations on the lawyer's conduct. See Rule 1.4(a)(5).

History Note: Statutory Authority G.S. 84-23

Adopted by the Supreme Court July 24, 1997

Amendments Approved by the Supreme Court: March 1, 2003

Ethics Opinion Notes

RPC 44. Opinion rules that a closing attorney must follow the lender's closing instruction that closing documents be recorded prior to disbursement.

RPC 103. Opinion rules that a lawyer for the insured and the insurer may not enter voluntary dismissal of the insured's counterclaim without the insured's consent

RPC 114. Opinion rules that attorneys may give legal advice and drafting assistance to persons wishing to proceed pro se without appearing as counsel of record.

RPC 118. Opinion rules that an attorney should not waive the statute of limitations without the client's consent.

RPC 129. Opinion rules that prosecutors and defense attorneys may negotiate plea agreements in which appellate and postconviction rights are waived, except in regard to allegations of ineffective assistance of counsel or prosecutorial misconduct.

RPC 145. Opinion rules that a lawyer may not include language in an employment agreement that divests the client of her exclusive authority to settle a civil case.

RPC 172. Opinion rules that an attorney retained by an insurance carrier to defend an insured has no ethical obligation to represent the insured on a compulsory counterclaim provided the attorney apprises the insured of the counterclaim in sufficient time for the insured to retain separate counsel.

RPC 208. Opinion rules that a lawyer should avoid offensive trial tactics and treat others with courtesy by attempting to ascertain the reason for the opposing party's failure to respond to a notice of hearing where there has been no prior lack of diligence or responsiveness on the part of opposing counsel.

RPC 212. Opinion rules that a lawyer may contact an opposing lawyer who failed to file an answer on time in order to remind the other lawyer of the error and to give the other lawyer a last opportunity to file the pleading.

RPC 220. Opinion rules that a lawyer should seek the court's permission to listen to a tape recording of a telephone conversation of his or her client made by a third party if listening to the tape recording would otherwise be a violation of the law.

RPC 223. Opinion rules that when a lawyer's reasonable attempts to locate a client are unsuccessful, the client's disappearance constitutes a constructive discharge of the lawyer requiring the lawyer's withdrawal from the representation.

RPC 240. Opinion rules that a lawyer may decline to represent a client on the property damage claim while agreeing to represent the client on the personal injury claim arising out of a motor vehicle accident provided that the limited representation will not adversely affect the client's representation on the personal injury claim and the client consents after full disclosure.

RPC 252. Opinion rules that a lawyer in receipt of materials that appear on their face to be subject to the attorney-client privilege or otherwise confidential, which were inadvertently sent to the lawyer by the opposing party or opposing counsel, should refrain from examining the materials and return them to the sender.

98 Formal Ethics Opinion 2. Opinion rules that a lawyer may explain the effect of service of process to a client but may not advise a client to evade service of process.

99 Formal Ethics Opinion 12. Opinion rules that when a lawyer appears with a debtor at a meeting of creditors in a bankruptcy proceeding as a favor to the debtor's lawyer, the lawyer is representing the debtor and all of the ethical obligations attendant to legal representation apply.

2002 Formal Ethics Opinion 1. Opinion rules that a lawyer may participate in a non-profit organization that promotes a cooperative method for resolving family law disputes although the client is required to make full disclosure and the lawyer is required to withdraw before court proceedings commence.

2003 Formal Ethics Opinion 2. Opinion rules that a lawyer must report a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct as required by Rule 8.3(a) even if the lawyer's unethical conduct stems from mental impairment (including substance abuse).

2003 Formal Ethics Opinion 7. Opinion rules that a lawyer may not prepare a power of attorney for the benefit of the principal at the request of another individual or third-party payer without consulting with, exercising independent professional judgment on behalf of, and obtaining consent from the principal.

2003 Formal Ethics Opinion 16. Opinion rules that a lawyer who is appointed to represent a parent in a proceeding to determine whether the parent's child is abused, neglected, or dependent, must seek to withdraw if the client disappears without communicating her objectives for the representation, and, if the motion is denied, must refrain from advocating for a particular outcome.

2005 Formal Ethics Opinion 10. Opinion addresses ethical concerns raised by an internet-based or virtual law practice and the provision of unbundled legal services.

2008 Formal Ethics Opinion 3. Opinion rules a lawyer may assist a pro se litigant by drafting pleadings and giving advice without making an appearance in the proceeding and without disclosing or ensuring the disclosure of his assistance to the court unless required to do so by law or court order.

2008 Formal Ethics Opinion 7. Opinion rules that a closing lawyer shall not record and disburse when a seller has delivered the deed to the lawyer but the buyer instructs the lawyer to take no further action to close the transaction.

2010 Formal Ethics Opinion 1. Opinion rules that a lawyer retained by an insurance carrier to represent an insured whose whereabouts are unknown and with whom the lawyer has no contact may not appear as the lawyer for the insured absent authorization by law or court order.

2011 Formal Ethics Opinion 3. Opinion rules that a criminal defense lawyer may advise an undocumented alien that deportation may result in avoidance of a criminal conviction and may file a notice of appeal to superior court although there is a possibility that the client will be deported.

2012 Formal Ethics Opinion 5. Opinion rules that a lawyer representing an employer must evaluate whether email messages an employee sent to and received from the employee’s lawyer using the employer’s business email system are protected by the attorney-client privilege and, if so, decline to review or use the messages unless a court determines that the messages are not privileged.

2012 Formal Ethics Opinion 9. Opinion holds that a lawyer asked to represent a child in a contested custody or visitation case should decline the appointment unless the order of appointment identifies the lawyer’s role and specifies the responsibilities of the lawyer.

2012 Formal Ethics Opinion 10. Opinion rules a lawyer may not participate as a network lawyer for a company providing litigation or administrative support services for clients with a particular legal/business problem unless certain conditions are satisfied.

2013 Formal Ethics Opinion 2. Opinion rules that if, after providing an incarcerated criminal client with a summary/explanation of the discovery materials in the client’s file, the client requests access to any of the discovery materials, the lawyer must afford the client the opportunity to meaningfully review relevant discovery materials unless certain conditions exist.

2014 Formal Ethics Opinion 5. Opinion rules a lawyer must advise a civil litigation client about the legal ramifications of the client’s postings on social media as necessary to represent the client competently. The lawyer may advise the client to remove postings on social media if the removal is done in compliance with the rules and law on preservation and spoliation of evidence.

2016 Formal Ethics Opinion 2 . Opinion rules that, when advancing claims on behalf of a criminal defendant who filed a pro se Motion for Appropriate Relief, subsequently appointed defense counsel must correct erroneous claims and statements of law or facts set out in the previous pro se filing.

2019 Formal Ethics Opinion 2. Opinion rules that a lawyer may not agree to terms in an ERISA plan agreement that usurp client’s authority as to the representation.

2019 Formal Ethics Opinion 7. Opinion rules that a lawyer may agree to an “attorney eyes only” disclosure restriction.

2021 Formal Ethics Opinion 4. Opinion rules that a lawyer may not take possession of photographs portraying a minor engaged in sexual activity.

2022 Formal Ethics Opinion 2. Opinion rules that a privately retained lawyer may provide limited representation to a criminal defendant who has been appointed counsel if the limitation is reasonable under the circumstances.

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