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Can your attorney be paid by someone else?

We’ve seen in some high-profile cases recently that when witnesses replace the attorneys their employers or former employers hired for them with attorneys working solely for them, they become more forthright with the information they provided – potentially saving themselves from perjury or obstruction charges and allowing them to be fully cooperative.

It can be very tempting if you’re caught up in workplace wrongdoing to let your employer pay for your legal counsel – especially if you didn’t intentionally do anything illegal or maybe are being told you’re just a witness. 

If you rely on an attorney who’s being paid by someone else, it’s crucial that the attorney doesn’t have any conflict of interest that could put you in legal jeopardy.  That shouldn’t be the case, but it too often is.

What are the ABA rules?

The American Bar Association’s (ABA) Model Rule of Professional Responsibility states that a lawyer can accept payment for representing a client from another party only with their client’s informed consent and if “there is no interference with the lawyer’s independence of professional judgment or with the client-lawyer relationship.” 

They must still honor the attorney-client privilege. That means they can’t share privileged conversations or other information with the person who’s paying them without their client’s informed consent.

Can an attorney represent more than one client in the same case?

The same rules apply. To represent more than one person involved in the same case, an attorney must “reasonably believe” that they’re able to “provide competent and diligent representation to each affected client.” If they don’t, that’s called a “concurrent conflict of interest.” For example, they can’t use something one client told them against another client.

If you believe that you didn’t get justice because your attorney put the interests of the person paying them over yours, you may be able to bring a legal malpractice claim. It’s wise to find out more about the rules and your rights.