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Rule 4.3 Dealing with Unrepresented Person

In dealing on behalf of a client with a person who is not represented by counsel, a lawyer shall not:

(a) give legal advice to the person, other than the advice to secure counsel, if the lawyer knows or reasonably should know that the interests of such person are or have a reasonable possibility of being in conflict with the interests of the client; and

(b) state or imply that the lawyer is disinterested. When the lawyer knows or reasonably should know that the unrepresented person misunderstands the lawyer's role in the matter, the lawyer shall make reasonable efforts to correct the misunderstanding.


[1] An unrepresented person, particularly one not experienced in dealing with legal matters, might assume that a lawyer is disinterested in loyalties or is a disinterested authority on the law even when the lawyer represents a client. To avoid a misunderstanding, a lawyer will typically need to identify the lawyer's client and, where necessary, explain that the client has interests opposed to those of the unrepresented person. For misunderstandings that sometimes arise when a lawyer for an organization deals with an unrepresented constituent, see Rule 1.13(d).

[2] The Rule distinguishes between situations involving unrepresented persons whose interests may be adverse to those of the lawyer's client and those in which the person's interests are not in conflict with the client's. In the former situation, the possibility that the lawyer will compromise the unrepresented person's interests is so great that the Rule prohibits the giving of any advice, apart from the advice to obtain counsel. This Rule does not prohibit a lawyer from negotiating the terms of a transaction or settling a dispute with an unrepresented person. So long as the lawyer has explained that the lawyer represents an adverse party and is not representing the person, the lawyer may inform the person of the terms on which the lawyer's client will enter into an agreement or settle a matter, prepare documents that require the person's signature and explain the lawyer's own view of the meaning of the document or the lawyer's view of the underlying legal obligations.

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 296. The attorney for the plaintiff in a domestic case may not make available to the defendant a form waiving the right to answer and other rights, nor may he allow his client to provide such a form to the defendant. ( But see RPC 165)

RPC 15. Opinion rules that attorney may interview person with an adverse interest who is unrepresented and make a demand or propose a settlement.

RPC 61. Opinion rules that a defense attorney may interview a child who is the prosecuting witness in a molestation case without the knowledge or consent of the district attorney.

RPC 165. Opinion rules that an attorney may provide a confession of judgment to an unrepresented adverse party for execution by that party so long as the lawyer does not undertake to advise the adverse party or feign disinterestedness.

RPC 189. Opinion rules that the members of a district attorney's staff may not give legal advice about pleas to lesser included infractions to an unrepresented person charged with a traffic infraction.

RPC 193. Opinion rules that the attorney for the plaintiffs in a personal injury action arising out of a motor vehicle accident may interview the unrepresented defendant even though the uninsured motorist insurer, which has elected to defend the claim in the name of the defendant, is represented by an attorney in the matter.

RPC 194. Opinion rules that in a letter to an unrepresented prospective defendant in a personal injury action, the plaintiff's lawyer may not give legal advice nor may he create the impression that he is concerned about or protecting the interests of the unrepresented prospective defendant.

2002 Formal Ethics Opinion 6. Opinion rules that the lawyer for the plaintiff may not prepare the answer to a complaint for an unrepresented adverse party to file pro se.

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.

2009 Formal Ethics Opinion 7. Opinion rules that a criminal defense lawyer or a prosecutor may not interview an unrepresented child who is the alleged victim in a criminal case alleging physical or sexual abuse if the child is younger than the age of maturity as determined by the General Assembly for the purpose of an in-custody interrogation (currently age 14) unless the lawyer has the consent of a non-accused parent or guardian or a court order allows the lawyer to seek an interview with the child without such consent; a lawyer may interview a child who is this age or older without such consent or authorization provided the lawyer complies with Rule 4.3, reasonably determines that the child is sufficiently mature to understand the lawyer’s role and purpose, and avoids any conduct designed to coerce or intimidate the child.

2009 Formal Ethics Opinion 12. Opinion rules that a lawyer may prepare an affidavit and confession of judgment for an unrepresented adverse party provided the lawyer explains who he represents and does not give the unrepresented party legal advice; however, the lawyer may not prepare a waiver of exemptions for the adverse party.

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 1. Opinion rules that a lawyer may not prepare pleadings and other filings for an unrepresented opposing party in a civil proceeding currently pending before a tribunal if doing so is tantamount to giving legal advice to that person.

2015 Formal Ethics Opinion 2. Opinion rules that when the original debt is $100,000 or more, a lawyer for a lender may prepare and provide to an unrepresented borrower, owner, or guarantor a waiver of the right to notice of foreclosure and the right to a foreclosure hearing pursuant to N.C.G.S. § 45-21.16(f) if the lawyer explains the lawyer’s role and does not give legal advice to any unrepresented person. However, a lawyer may not prepare such a waiver if the waiver is a part of a loan modification package for a mortgage secured by the borrower’s primary residence.

2018 Formal Ethics Opinion 5. Opinion reviews a lawyer’s professional responsibilities when seeking access to a person’s profile, pages, and posts on a social network to investigate a client’s legal matter.

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