I recently suffered some personal health incidents, but they have not affected my mental capabilities. Do I have to tell my clients about this?
There is no requirement to notify your clients of personal health problems unless they affect your ability to provide legal services and representation to your clients. The Rules of Professional Conduct require a lawyer to communicate with clients about information that is related to the representation of the client. In a situation in which the personal health problems do not directly affect your mental or physical abilities to provide legal services, you would not be obligated to disclose that information to your clients. It may be wise, however, for business reasons to do so, which is discussed further below.
SCR 20:1.4 of the Wisconsin Rules of Professional Conduct governs a lawyer’s duty to communicate information about the representation to a client. Specifically, the rule provides as follows:
SCR 20:1.4 Communication. (a) A lawyer shall:
(1) Promptly inform the client of any decision or circumstance with respect to which the client’s informed consent, as defined in SCR 20:1.0 (f), is required by these rules;
(2) reasonably consult with the client about the means by which the client’s objectives are to be accomplished;
(3) keep the client reasonably informed about the status of the matter;
(4) promptly comply with reasonable requests by the client for information; and
(5) consult with the client about any relevant limitation on the lawyer’s conduct when the lawyer knows that the client expects assistance not permitted by the Rules of Professional Conduct or other law.
(b) A lawyer shall explain a matter to the extent reasonably necessary to permit the client to make informed decisions regarding the representation.
It is often a better
decision to disclose
information to a client
rather than having the
client find out from
some other source and
then wonder whether
you are able to provide
representation or to
question the decisionmaking
While this rule imposes obligations on lawyers to communicate with clients about the representation, the change in personal health conditions would not be something that must be communicated to the client if it does not affect the manner or nature in which you would provide legal representation.
There is certainly a business consideration that must be assessed. It is very hard for anyone to imagine that personal information about your health would be kept confidential or undisclosed in today’s world of information sharing. It is often a better decision to disclose information to a client rather than having the client find out from some other source and then wonder whether you are able to provide representation or to question the decision-making process in providing representation.
It may be preferable to disclose information immediately than try to keep the information hidden. That would depend on the individual characteristics of the client relationship and your personal health conditions.
Need Ethics Advice?
As a State Bar member, you have access to informal guidance and help in resolving questions regarding Wisconsin’s Rules of Professional Conduct for Attorneys.
Ethics Hotline: To informally discuss an ethics question, contact State Bar ethics counselors Timothy Pierce or Aviva Kaiser. They can be reached at (608) 229-2017 or (800) 254-9154, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m to 4 p.m.