81-F-20 - Investigative Subpoena

FORMAL ETHICS OPINION 81-F-20

An inquiry has been made concerning the propriety of an attorney
disclosing information protected by the attorney-client privilege or client
secrets in response to an investigative subpoena of the T.B.I.


The law firm, in representing a particular client, has made deposits and disbursement
through its trust account in connection with real estate transactions of the client. The trust
account used is an escrow account which involves transactions for all of the law firm's
clients. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has issued an investigative subpoena to
the bank which holds the law firm's general trust account and calls for the production of
all records pertaining to the account for a period of more than a year. The particular
client, who is the apparent target or subject of the investigation, has consented to the
release of the information. However, the T.B.I. is requesting access to information
pertaining to the entire account involving clients who have neither received notice of the
investigation nor given consent for release of information.


The language and opinion cited in ABA Opinion 250 (1943) is adopted herein as follows:


The purposes and necessities of the relation between a
client and his attorney require, in many cases, on the part of
the client, the fullest and freest disclosures to the attorney
of the client's objects, motives and acts. This disclosure is
made in the strictest confidence, relying upon the attorney's
honor and fidelity. To permit the attorney to reveal to
others what is so disclosed would be not only a gross
violation of a sacred trust upon his part, but it would utterly
destroy and prevent the usefulness and benefits to be
derived from professional assistance. Based upon
considerations of public policy, therefore, the law wisely
declares that all confidential communications and
disclosures, made by a client to his legal adviser for the
purpose of obtaining his professional aid or advice, shall be
strictly privileged; -- that the attorney shall not be
permitted, without the consent of his client -- and much less
will be compelled -- to reveal or disclose communications
made to him under such circumstances.


The attorney is ethically obligated to resist disclosing confidential information relating to
clients not involved in the T.B.I. investigation, and to invoke all available legal remedies
against such disclosure.

This 3rd day of September , 1981.

ETHICS COMMITTEE:

Randall Burcham
W. H. Lassiter
George Morrow

APPROVED AND ADOPTED BY THE BOARD