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Rule 1.8 Conflict of Interest: Current Clients: Specific Rules

(a) A lawyer shall not enter into a business transaction with a client or knowingly acquire an ownership, possessory, security or other pecuniary interest directly adverse to a client unless:

(1) the transaction and terms on which the lawyer acquires the interest are fair and reasonable to the client and are fully disclosed and transmitted in writing in a manner that can be reasonably understood by the client;

(2) the client is advised in writing of the desirability of seeking and is given a reasonable opportunity to seek the advice of independent legal counsel on the transaction; and

(3) the client gives informed consent, in a writing signed by the client, to the essential terms of the transaction and the lawyer's role in the transaction, including whether the lawyer is representing the client in the transaction.

(b) A lawyer shall not use information relating to representation of a client to the disadvantage of the client unless the client gives informed consent, except as permitted or required by these Rules.

(c) A lawyer shall not solicit any substantial gift from a client, including a testamentary gift, or prepare on behalf of a client an instrument giving the lawyer or a person related to the lawyer any substantial gift unless the lawyer or other recipient of the gift is related to the client. For purposes of this paragraph, related persons include a spouse, child, grandchild, parent, grandparent or other relative or individual with whom the lawyer or the client maintains a close, familial relationship.

(d) Prior to the conclusion of representation of a client, a lawyer shall not make or negotiate an agreement giving the lawyer literary or media rights to a portrayal or account based in substantial part on information relating to the representation.

(e) A lawyer shall not provide financial assistance to a client in connection with pending or contemplated litigation, except that:

(1) a lawyer may advance court costs and expenses of litigation, the repayment of which may be contingent on the outcome of the matter; and

(2) a lawyer representing an indigent client may pay court costs and expenses of litigation on behalf of the client.

(f) A lawyer shall not accept compensation for representing a client from one other than the client unless:

(1) the client gives informed consent;

(2) there is no interference with the lawyer's independence of professional judgment or with the client-lawyer relationship; and

(3) information relating to representation of a client is protected as required by Rule 1.6.

(g) A lawyer who represents two or more clients shall not participate in making an aggregate settlement of the claims of or against the clients, or in a criminal case an aggregated agreement as to guilty or nolo contendere pleas, unless each client gives informed consent, in a writing signed by the client. The lawyer's disclosure shall include the existence and nature of all the claims or pleas involved and of the participation of each person in the settlement.

(h) A lawyer shall not:

(1) make an agreement prospectively limiting the lawyer's liability to a client for malpractice unless the client is independently represented in making the agreement; or

(2) settle a claim or potential claim for such liability with an unrepresented client or former client unless that person is advised in writing of the desirability of seeking and is given a reasonable opportunity to seek the advice of independent legal counsel in connection therewith.

(i) A lawyer shall not acquire a proprietary interest in the cause of action or subject matter of litigation the lawyer is conducting for a client, except that the lawyer may:

(1) acquire a lien authorized by law to secure the lawyer's fee or expenses, provided the requirements of Rule 1.8(a) are satisfied; and

(2) contract with a client for a reasonable contingent fee in a civil case, except as prohibited by Rule 1.5.

(j) While lawyers are associated in a firm, a prohibition in the foregoing paragraphs (a) through (i), that applies to any one of them shall apply to all of them.


Note: See Rule 1.19 for the prohibition on client-lawyer sexual relationships.

Business Transactions Between Client and Lawyer

[1] A lawyer's legal skill and training, together with the relationship of trust and confidence between lawyer and client, create the possibility of overreaching when the lawyer participates in a business, property or financial transaction with a client, for example, a loan or sales transaction or a lawyer investment on behalf of a client. The requirements of paragraph (a) must be met even when the transaction is not closely related to the subject matter of the representation, as when a lawyer drafting a will for a client learns that the client needs money for unrelated expenses and offers to make a loan to the client. See Rule 5.7. It also applies to lawyers purchasing property from estates they represent. It does not apply to ordinary fee arrangements between client and lawyer, which are governed by Rule 1.5, although its requirements must be met when the lawyer accepts an interest in the client's business or other nonmonetary property as payment of all or part of a fee. In addition, the Rule does not apply to standard commercial transactions between the lawyer and the client for products or services that the client generally markets to others, for example, banking or brokerage services, medical services, products manufactured or distributed by the client, and utilities' services. In such transactions, the lawyer has no advantage in dealing with the client, and the restrictions in paragraph (a) are unnecessary and impracticable.

[2] Paragraph (a)(1) requires that the transaction itself be fair to the client and that its essential terms be communicated to the client, in writing, in a manner that can be reasonably understood. Paragraph (a)(2) requires that the client also be advised, in writing, of the desirability of seeking the advice of independent legal counsel. It also requires that the client be given a reasonable opportunity to obtain such advice. Paragraph (a)(3) requires that the lawyer obtain the client's informed consent, in a writing signed by the client, both to the essential terms of the transaction and to the lawyer's role. When necessary, the lawyer should discuss both the material risks of the proposed transaction, including any risk presented by the lawyer's involvement, and the existence of reasonably available alternatives and should explain why the advice of independent legal counsel is desirable. See Rule 1.0(f) (definition of informed consent).

[3] The risk to a client is greatest when the client expects the lawyer to represent the client in the transaction itself or when the lawyer's financial interest otherwise poses a significant risk that the lawyer's representation of the client will be materially limited by the lawyer's financial interest in the transaction. Here the lawyer's role requires that the lawyer must comply, not only with the requirements of paragraph (a), but also with the requirements of Rule 1.7. Under that Rule, the lawyer must disclose the risks associated with the lawyer's dual role as both legal adviser and participant in the transaction, such as the risk that the lawyer will structure the transaction or give legal advice in a way that favors the lawyer's interests at the expense of the client. Moreover, the lawyer must obtain the client's informed consent. In some cases, the lawyer's interest may be such that Rule 1.7 will preclude the lawyer from seeking the client's consent to the transaction.

[4] If the client is independently represented in the transaction, paragraph (a)(2) of this Rule is inapplicable, and the paragraph (a)(1) requirement for full disclosure is satisfied either by a written disclosure by the lawyer involved in the transaction or by the client's independent counsel. The fact that the client was independently represented in the transaction is relevant in determining whether the agreement was fair and reasonable to the client as paragraph (a)(1) further requires.

Use of Information Related to Representation

[5] Use of information relating to the representation to the disadvantage of the client violates the lawyer's duty of loyalty. Paragraph (b) applies when the information is used to benefit either the lawyer or a third person, such as another client or business associate of the lawyer. For example, if a lawyer learns that a client intends to purchase and develop several parcels of land, the lawyer may not use that information to purchase one of the parcels in competition with the client or to recommend that another client make such a purchase. The Rule does not prohibit uses that do not disadvantage the client. For example, a lawyer who learns a government agency's interpretation of trade legislation during the representation of one client may properly use that information to benefit other clients. Paragraph (b) prohibits disadvantageous use of client information unless the client gives informed consent, except as permitted or required by these Rules. See Rules 1.2(d), 1.6, 1.9(c), 3.3, 4.1, 8.1 and 8.3.

Gifts to Lawyers

[6] A lawyer may accept a gift from a client, if the transaction meets general standards of fairness. For example, a simple gift such as a present given at a holiday or as a token of appreciation is permitted. If a client offers the lawyer a more substantial gift, paragraph (c) does not prohibit the lawyer from accepting it, although such a gift may be voidable by the client under the doctrine of undue influence, which treats client gifts as presumptively fraudulent. In any event, due to concerns about overreaching and imposition on clients, a lawyer may not suggest that a substantial gift be made to the lawyer or for the lawyer's benefit, except where the lawyer is related to the client as set forth in paragraph (c).

[7] If effectuation of a substantial gift requires preparing a legal instrument such as a will or conveyance, the client should have the detached advice that another lawyer can provide. The sole exception to this Rule is where the client is a relative of the donee.

[8] This Rule does not prohibit a lawyer from seeking to have the lawyer or a partner or associate of the lawyer named as executor of the client's estate or to another potentially lucrative fiduciary position. Nevertheless, such appointments will be subject to the general conflict of interest provision in Rule 1.7 when there is a significant risk that the lawyer's interest in obtaining the appointment will materially limit the lawyer's independent professional judgment in advising the client concerning the choice of an executor or other fiduciary. In obtaining the client's informed consent to the conflict, the lawyer should advise the client concerning the nature and extent of the lawyer's financial interest in the appointment, as well as the availability of alternative candidates for the position.

Literary Rights

[9] An agreement by which a lawyer acquires literary or media rights concerning the conduct of the representation creates a conflict between the interests of the client and the personal interests of the lawyer. Measures suitable in the representation of the client may detract from the publication value of an account of the representation. Paragraph (d) does not prohibit a lawyer representing a client in a transaction concerning literary property from agreeing that the lawyer's fee shall consist of a share in ownership in the property, if the arrangement conforms to Rule 1.5 and paragraphs (a) and (i).

Financial Assistance

[10] Lawyers may not subsidize lawsuits or administrative proceedings brought on behalf of their clients, including making or guaranteeing loans to their clients for living expenses, because to do so would encourage clients to pursue lawsuits that might not otherwise be brought and because such assistance gives lawyers too great a financial stake in the litigation. These dangers do not warrant a prohibition on a lawyer lending a client court costs and litigation expenses, including the expenses of medical examination and the costs of obtaining and presenting evidence, because these advances are virtually indistinguishable from contingent fees and help ensure access to the courts. Similarly, an exception allowing lawyers representing indigent clients to pay court costs and litigation expenses regardless of whether these funds will be repaid is warranted.

Person Paying for a Lawyer's Services

[11] Lawyers are frequently asked to represent a client under circumstances in which a third person will compensate the lawyer, in whole or in part. The third person might be a relative or friend, an indemnitor (such as a liability insurance company) or a co-client (such as a corporation sued along with one or more of its employees). Because third-party payers frequently have interests that differ from those of the client, including interests in minimizing the amount spent on the representation and in learning how the representation is progressing, lawyers are prohibited from accepting or continuing such representations unless the lawyer determines that there will be no interference with the lawyer's independent professional judgment and there is informed consent from the client. See also Rule 5.4(c) (prohibiting interference with a lawyer's professional judgment by one who recommends, employs or pays the lawyer to render legal services for another).

[12] Sometimes, it will be sufficient for the lawyer to obtain the client's informed consent regarding the fact of the payment and the identity of the third-party payer. If, however, the fee arrangement creates a conflict of interest for the lawyer, then the lawyer must comply with Rule. 1.7. The lawyer must also conform to the requirements of Rule 1.6 concerning confidentiality. Under Rule 1.7(a), a conflict of interest exists if there is significant risk that the lawyer's representation of the client will be materially limited by the lawyer's own interest in the fee arrangement or by the lawyer's responsibilities to the third-party payer (for example, when the third-party payer is a co-client). Under Rule 1.7(b), the lawyer may accept or continue the representation with the informed consent of each affected client, unless the conflict is nonconsentable under that paragraph. Under Rule 1.7(b), the informed consent must be confirmed in writing.

Aggregate Settlements

[13] Differences in willingness to make or accept an offer of settlement are among the risks of common representation of multiple clients by a single lawyer. Under Rule 1.7, this is one of the risks that should be discussed before undertaking the representation, as part of the process of obtaining the clients' informed consent. In addition, Rule 1.2(a) protects each client's right to have the final say in deciding whether to accept or reject an offer of settlement and in deciding whether to enter a guilty or nolo contendere plea in a criminal case. The rule stated in this paragraph is a corollary of both these Rules and provides that, before any settlement offer or plea bargain is made or accepted on behalf of multiple clients, the lawyer must inform each of them about all the material terms of the settlement, including what the other clients will receive or pay if the settlement or plea offer is accepted. See alsoRule 1.0(f) (definition of informed consent). Lawyers representing a class of plaintiffs or defendants, or those proceeding derivatively, may not have a full client-lawyer relationship with each member of the class; nevertheless, such lawyers must comply with applicable rules regulating notification of class members and other procedural requirements designed to ensure adequate protection of the entire class.

Limiting Liability and Settling Malpractice Claims

[14] Agreements prospectively limiting a lawyer's liability for malpractice are prohibited unless the client is independently represented in making the agreement because they are likely to undermine competent and diligent representation. Also, many clients are unable to evaluate the desirability of making such an agreement before a dispute has arisen, particularly if they are then represented by the lawyer seeking the agreement. This paragraph does not, however, prohibit a lawyer from entering into an agreement with the client to arbitrate legal malpractice claims, provided such agreements are enforceable and the client is fully informed of the scope and effect of the agreement. Nor does this paragraph limit the ability of lawyers to practice in the form of a limited-liability entity, where permitted by law, provided that each lawyer remains personally liable to the client for his or her own conduct and the firm complies with any conditions required by law, such as provisions requiring client notification or maintenance of adequate liability insurance. Nor does it prohibit an agreement in accordance with Rule 1.2 that defines the scope of the representation, although a definition of scope that makes the obligations of representation illusory will amount to an attempt to limit liability.

[15] Agreements settling a claim or a potential claim for malpractice are not prohibited by this Rule. Nevertheless, in view of the danger that a lawyer will take unfair advantage of an unrepresented client or former client, the lawyer must first advise such a person in writing of the appropriateness of independent representation in connection with such a settlement. In addition, the lawyer must give the client or former client a reasonable opportunity to find and consult independent counsel.

Acquiring Proprietary Interest in Litigation

[16] Paragraph (i) states the traditional general rule that lawyers are prohibited from acquiring a proprietary interest in litigation. Like paragraph (e), the general rule has its basis in common law champerty and maintenance and is designed to avoid giving the lawyer too great an interest in the representation. In addition, when the lawyer acquires an ownership interest in the subject of the representation, it will be more difficult for a client to discharge the lawyer if the client so desires. The Rule permits a lawyer to acquire a lien to secure the lawyer's fee or expenses provided the requirements of Rule 1.7 are satisfied. Specifically, the lawyer must reasonably believe that the representation will not be adversely affected after taking into account the possibility that the acquisition of a proprietary interest in the client's cause of action or any res involved therein may cloud the lawyer's judgment and impair the lawyer's ability to function as an advocate. The lawyer must also disclose the risks involved prior to obtaining the client's consent. Prior to initiating a foreclosure on property subject to a lien securing a legal fee, the lawyer must notify the client of the right to require the lawyer to participate in the mandatory fee dispute resolution program. See Rule 1.5(f).

[17] The Rule is subject to specific exceptions developed in decisional law and continued in these Rules. The exception for certain advances of the costs of litigation is set forth in paragraph (e). In addition, paragraph (i) sets forth exceptions for liens authorized by law to secure the lawyer's fees or expenses and contracts for reasonable contingent fees. The law of each jurisdiction determines which liens are authorized by law. These may include liens granted by statute, liens originating in common law and liens acquired by contract with the client. When a lawyer acquires by contract a security interest in property other than that recovered through the lawyer's efforts in the litigation, such an acquisition is a business or financial transaction with a client and is governed by the requirements of paragraph (a). Contracts for contingent fees in civil cases are governed by Rule 1.5.

Imputation of Prohibitions

[18] Under paragraph (j), a prohibition on conduct by an individual lawyer in paragraphs (a) through (i) also applies to all lawyers associated in a firm with the personally prohibited lawyer. For example, one lawyer in a firm may not enter into a business transaction with a client of another member of the firm without complying with paragraph (a), even if the first lawyer is not personally involved in the representation of the client.

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

CPR 11. An attorney may contract to receive an interest in real property as a contingent fee for legal representation in an action to clear title to the subject property.

CPR 135. It is not improper for a legal aid society to request clients to donate unused trust funds to the society.

CPR 157. An attorney handling a personal injury case may advance the cost of the client's medical examination if such is actually an expense of litigation for which the client remains ultimately liable. ( But see Rule 1.8(e))

CPR 241.

CPR 291. An attorney who has procured a judgment for a client that has not been collected by the ninth year may purchase the judgment if the client does wish to renew it, but this practice is not encouraged.

CPR 346. An attorney may represent a defendant employee of a city and accept payment of his fee from the city even though the employee may cross-claim against city.

RPC 11. Opinion rules that when married lawyers are employed in different firms and those firms represent adverse parties, neither firm is disqualified.

RPC 24. Opinion rules that a lawyer may not purchase his client's property at an execution sale on his own account because of conflict of interest.

RPC 76. Opinion rules that a lawyer may advance his client's fine.

RPC 80. Opinion rules that a lawyer may not lend money to a client who is represented in pending or contemplated litigation except to finance costs of litigation.

RPC 84. Opinion rules that an attorney may not condition settlement of a civil dispute on an agreement not to report lawyer misconduct.

RPC 124. Opinion rules that a lawyer may not agree to bear the costs of federal class action litigation.

RPC 134. Opinion rules that a lawyer may not accept an assignment of her client's judgment while representing the client on appeal of the judgment.

RPC 167. Opinion rules that a lawyer may accept compensation from a potentially adverse insurance carrier for representing a minor in the court approval of a personal injury settlement provided the lawyer is able to represent the minor's interests without regard to who is actually paying for his services.

RPC 173. Opinion rules that a lawyer who represents a client on a criminal charge may not lend the client the money necessary to post bond.

RPC 186. Opinion rules that a lawyer who represents a client in a pending domestic action may take a promissory note secured by a deed of trust as payment for the lawyer's fee even though the deed of trust is on real property that is or may be the subject of the domestic action.

RPC 187. Opinion rules that a lawyer may not acquire a proprietary interest in the subject matter of domestic litigation by obtaining a client's authorization to instruct the clerk of superior court to forward the client's support payments to the lawyer to satisfy the client's legal fees.

RPC 238. Opinion rules that a lawyer is subject to the Rules of Professional Conduct with respect to the provision of a law related service, such as financial planning, if the law related service is provided in circumstances that are not distinct from the lawyer's provision of legal services to clients.

98 Formal Ethics Opinion 14. Opinion rules that a lawyer may participate in the solicitation of funds from third parties to pay the legal fees of a client provided there is disclosure to contributors and the funds are administered honestly.

98 Formal Ethics Opinion 17. Opinion rules that a lawyer may not comply with an insurance carrier's billing requirements and guidelines if they interfere with the lawyer's ability to exercise his or her independent professional judgment in the representation of the insured.

2001 Formal Ethics Opinion 7. Opinion prohibits a lawyer from advancing the cost of a rental car to a client even though the car will be used, on occasion, to transport the client to medical examinations.

2001 Formal Ethics Opinion 9. Opinion rules that, although a lawyer may recommend the purchase of a financial product to a legal client, the lawyer may not receive a commission for its sale.

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.

2005 Formal Ethics Opinion 12. Opinion explores a lawyer's obligation to return legal fees when a third party is the payor.

2006 Formal Ethics Opinion 11. Opinion rules that, outside of the commercial or business context, a lawyer may not, at the request of a third party, prepare documents, such as a will or trust instrument, that purport to speak solely for principal without consulting with, exercising independent professional judgment on behalf of, and obtaining consent from the principal.

2006 Formal Ethics Opinion 12. Opinion explores the circumstances under which a lawyer may obtain litigation funding from a financing company.

2008 Formal Ethics Opinion 12. Opinion rules that a lawyer may not initiate foreclosure on a deed of trust on a client's property while still representing the client.

2010 Formal Ethics Opinion 13. Opinion rules that a lawyer may receive a fee or commission in exchange for providing financial services and products to a legal client so long as the lawyer complies with the ethical rules pertaining to the provision of law-related services, business transactions with clients, and conflicts of interest.

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.

2014 Formal Ethics Opinion 10. Opinion rules that a lawyer who handles adoptions as part of her or his law practice and also owns a financial interest in a for-profit adoption agency may, with informed consent, represent an adopting couple utilizing the services of the adoption agency but may not represent the biological parents.

2015 Formal Ethics Opinion 3. Opinion rules that a lawyer may not offer a computer tablet to a prospective client in a direct mail solicitation letter.

2018 Formal Ethics Opinion 6. Opinion rules that, with certain conditions, a lawyer may include in a client’s fee agreement a provision allowing the lawyer’s purchase of litigation cost protection insurance and requiring reimbursement of the insurance premium from the client’s funds in the event of a settlement or favorable trial verdict.

2019 Formal Ethics Opinion 5. Opinion rules that a lawyer may receive virtual currency as a flat fee for legal services, provided the fee is not clearly excessive and the terms of Rule 1.8(a) are satisfied. A lawyer may not, however, accept virtual currency as entrusted funds to be billed against or to be held for the benefit of the lawyer, the client, or any third party.

2020 Formal Ethics Opinion 2. Opinion rules that a lawyer may not advance a client’s portion of settlement proceeds while a matter is pending or litigation is contemplated but may advance a client’s portion of settlement proceeds under other circumstance if the lawyer complies with Rule 1.8(a).

2020 Formal Ethics Opinion 4. Opinion rules that a lawyer may not invest in a fund that provides litigation financing if the lawyer’s practice accepts clients who obtain litigation financing.

2021 Formal Ethics Opinion 3. Opinion rules that a closing lawyer representing the buyer in a residential real estate transaction may not charge a fee for services performed that primarily benefit the buyer to a separately represented seller unless the seller consents to the fee and the lawyer complies with Rules 1.5(a) and 1.8(f). The opinion also allows a closing lawyer to charge a seller for services performed that primarily benefit the seller if seller is notified in advance of the charge and has a reasonable opportunity to object to the charge.

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