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    Wisconsin Lawyer
    May 14, 2021

    Ethics: Confidentiality Assured: State Bar Ethics, Practice411, and WisLAP

    Rest assured: Calls to and from the State Bar of Wisconsin's ethics, practice management, and lawyers assistance programs are private and confidential.

    Dean R. Dietrich

    Question

    I provide services to other lawyers through the State Bar’s Wisconsin Lawyers Assistance Program (WisLAP). I have been told that I must not disclose any of the information I learn while providing these services and do not have a duty to report on the inappropriate conduct of another lawyer. Is that correct?

    Answer

    That is very accurate. Lawyers who provide services to other lawyers via the State Bar of Wisconsin Ethics Hotline, the Law Office Management Assistance Program (Practice411), and particularly the Wisconsin Lawyers Assistance Program (WisLAP) are specifically exempt from the general rule that a lawyer must report on the conduct of another lawyer if that conduct violates the Rules of Professional Conduct and reflects adversely on the honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness of that person to serve as a lawyer.

    Dean R. DietrichDean R. Dietrich, Marquette 1977, of law firm of Dietrich VanderWaal Law Group SC, Wausau, is past chair of the State Bar Professional Ethics Committee.

    The specific rule is SCR 20:8.3(d), which provides as follows:

    (d) This rule does not require disclosure of any of the following:

    (1) Information gained by a lawyer while participating in a confidential lawyers’ assistance program.  

    (2) Information acquired by any person selected to mediate or arbitrate disputes between lawyers arising out of a professional or economic dispute involving law firm dissolutions, termination or departure of one or more lawyers from a law firm where such information is acquired in the course of mediating or arbitrating the dispute between lawyers.

    The Wisconsin comment to this rule makes it clear that it applies to all three State Bar-sponsored programs. Based on the requirements of this rule, any lawyer who provides assistance to another lawyer is specifically excluded from the obligation to report on the conduct of the other lawyer and must not disclose information that is learned as part of the assistance provided to the requesting lawyer. The same is true for the WisLAP staff, who are subject to a confidentiality requirement covering any information provided by a lawyer seeking assistance under one of these programs. This is a critical component of the services provided by these programs and is honored to the highest degree to ensure confidentiality when a lawyer contacts a program for assistance.

    Wisconsin lawyers should feel very comfortable using these services to seek assistance in meeting the needs of their clients and addressing their own personal well-being. Everything is kept confidential and separate from all other State Bar records and databases.

    Lawyers are encouraged to use these services for the help they might need, recognizing that all information is protected and confidential.

    Ask Us!

    Questions about ethics, practice management, or the Wisconsin Lawyers Assistance Program (WisLAP)? Confidential assistance is a phone call or click away:

    Ethics Hotline: (800) 254-9154, or (608) 229-2017 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday.

    Practice411: (800) 957-4670, or practicehelp@wisbar.org

    WisLAP 24-hour helpline: (800) 543-2625

    » Cite this article: 94 Wis. Law. 48 (May 2021).




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