Copyright (c) 2000 The Journal of the Legal Profession
The Journal of the Legal Profession
ARTICLE: When May an Attorney Accept Gifts or Donations from Clients Without Breaching Rules Relating to Conflicts of Interest?
1999 / 2000
24 J. Legal Prof. 445
Chad A. Hopper
An attorney has a unique relationship with his or her client. Clients are sometimes in trouble or in need of essential advice when they look to a lawyer. Consequently, when an attorney does a good job for his or her client, the client often wants to express gratitude by giving a gift or making the lawyer a beneficiary in a will. What should the attorney do in this situation? Is he or she under an ethical duty to deny the gift? What if the client insists upon leaving something in a will for the attorney? This comment reviews case law as it relates to the wishes of a client to give a gift to an attorney.
II. Ethical Rules
The Model Code of Professional Responsibility defines an attorney's duty when he or she realizes that they may have a personal interest in the outcome of the employment. 1 The Model Code states, "except with the consent of his client after full disclosure, a lawyer shall not accept employment if the exercise of his professional judgment on behalf of his client will be or reasonably may be affected by his own financial, business, property, or personal interests." 2 But what constitutes "full disclosure?" What if the attorney does not see that his "professional judgment" was compromised? Courts have held that an attorney can violate the ethical rules prohibiting gifts even if he does not see the transaction as a gift. 3
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