Rule 4.4 Respect for Rights of Third Persons
(a) In representing a client, a lawyer shall not use means that have no substantial purpose other than to embarrass, delay, or burden a third person, or use methods of obtaining evidence that violate the legal rights of such a person.
(b) A lawyer who receives a writing relating to the representation of the lawyer’s client and knows or reasonably should know that the writing was inadvertently sent shall promptly notify the sender.
 Responsibility to a client requires a lawyer to subordinate the interests of others to those of the client, but that responsibility does not imply that a lawyer may disregard the rights of third persons. It is impractical to catalogue all such rights, but they include legal restrictions on methods of obtaining evidence from third persons and unwarranted intrusions into privileged relationships, such as the client-lawyer relationship.
 Threats, bullying, harassment, insults, slurs, personal attacks, unfounded personal accusations generally serve no substantial purpose other than to embarrass, delay, or burden others and violate this rule. Conduct that serves no substantial purpose other than to intimidate, humiliate, or embarrass lawyers, litigants, witnesses, or other persons with whom a lawyer interacts while representing a client also violates this rule. See also Rule 3.5(a) (prohibiting conduct intended to disrupt a tribunal) and Rule 8.4(d) (prohibiting conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice).
 Paragraph (b) recognizes that lawyers sometimes receive writings that were mistakenly sent or produced by opposing parties or their lawyers. See Rule 1.0(o) for the definition of “writing,” which includes electronic communications and metadata. A writing is inadvertently sent when it is accidentally transmitted, such as when an electronic communication or letter is misaddressed or a document or electronically stored information is accidentally included with information that was intentionally transmitted. If a lawyer knows or reasonably should know that such a writing was sent inadvertently, then this rule requires the lawyer promptly to notify the sender in order to permit that person to take protective measures. This duty is imputed to all lawyers in a firm. Whether the lawyer who receives the writing is required to take additional steps, such as returning the writing, is a matter of law beyond the scope of these rules, as is the question of whether the privileged status of a writing has been waived. Similarly, this Rule does not address the legal duties of a lawyer who receives a writing that the lawyer knows or reasonably should know may have been inappropriately obtained by the sending person. Metadata in electronic documents creates an obligation under this Rule only if the receiving lawyer knows or reasonably should know that the metadata was inadvertently sent to the receiving lawyer. A lawyer who receives an electronic communication from the opposing party or the opposing party’s lawyer must refrain from searching for or using confidential information found in the metadata embedded in the communication. See 2009 FEO 1.
 Some lawyers may choose to return a writing or delete electronically stored information unread, for example, when the lawyer learns before receiving the writing that it was inadvertently sent. Whether the lawyer is required to do so is a matter of law. When return of the writing is not required by law, the decision voluntarily to return such a writing or delete electronically stored information is a matter of professional judgment ordinarily reserved to the lawyer. See Rules 1.2 and 1.4.
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; August 18, 2005; October 2, 2014; March 5, 2015
Ethics Opinion Notes
RPC 181. Opinion rules that a lawyer may not seek to disqualify another lawyer from representing the opposing party by instructing a client to consult with the other lawyer about the subject matter of the representation when the client has no intention of retaining the other lawyer to represent him.
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.
2007 Formal Ethics Opinion 1. Opinion rules that a lawyer owes no ethical duty to the heirs of an estate that he represents in a wrongful death action except as set forth in Rule 4.4.
2009 Formal Ethics Opinion 1. Opinion rules that a lawyer must use reasonable care to prevent the disclosure of confidential client information hidden in metadata when transmitting an electronic communication and a lawyer who receives an electronic communication from another party or another party's lawyer must refrain from searching for and using confidential information found in the metadata embedded in the document.
2009 Formal Ethics Opinion 5. Opinion rules that a lawyer may serve the opposing party with discovery requests that require the party to reveal her citizenship status, but the lawyer may not report the status to ICE unless required to do so by federal or state law.
2010 Formal Ethics Opinion 2. Opinion rules that a lawyer may not serve an out of state health care provider with an unenforceable North Carolina subpoena and may not use documents produced pursuant to such a subpoena.
2011 Formal Ethics Opinion 16. Opinion rules that a criminal defense lawyer accused of ineffective assistance of counsel by a former client may share confidential client information with prosecutors to help establish a defense to the claim so long as the lawyer reasonably believes a response is necessary and the response is narrowly tailored to respond to the allegations.
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.
2014 Formal Ethics Opinion 4. Opinion rules that a lawyer may send a subpoena for medical records to an entity covered by HIPAA without providing the assurances necessary for the entity to comply with the subpoena as set out in 45 C.F.R. §164.512(e)(ii).
2014 Formal Ethics Opinion 7. Opinion rules that a lawyer may provide a foreign entity or individual with a North Carolina subpoena accompanied by a statement/letter explaining that the subpoena is not enforceable in the foreign jurisdiction, the recipient is not required to comply with the subpoena, and the subpoena is being provided solely for the recipient’s records.
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.