Opinion 93-8
(June 1993)

The Inquirer has represented a number of businesses which are owned by a client (Husband), and represented Husband individually, in connection with a commercial transaction, on one occasion. While Inquirer is socially friendly with both Husband and Husband's wife (Wife), Inquirer has never represented Wife individually. Husband and Wife are now divorcing, and each is represented by their own individual counsel. Inquirer has been providing assistance to Husband's attorney with respect to the tax and business issues relating to Husband's divorce. In the course of rendering this assistance, Inquirer participated in several meetings attended by Husband's divorce attorney and Wife's former divorce attorney, and at each such meeting Inquirer clearly indicated that he was assisting Husband's counsel in connection with the divorce.

Wife is now represented by a new attorney, who has succeeded in obtaining an order voiding the Divorce Settlement Agreement. Wife's new attorney has asserted that Inquirer's prior relationship with both Wife and Husband creates an impermissible conflict of interest requiring Inquirer to withdraw from any representation of Husband during the remaining divorce proceedings. Wife's attorney appears to base this conclusion on the theory that, since Inquirer represented business in which Wife had an interest, Wife had the right to expect professional loyalty and the avoidance of a conflict of interest.

Inquirer asks whether such a conflict of interest does exist, necessitating his withdrawal from assisting in the representation of Husband through the remaining divorce proceedings.

The Committee has concluded that no such conflict of interest exists. Based upon the facts given, it appears that, at all relevant times, Inquirer represented only Husband and the corporate entities; there appears to be no direct professional relationship between Inquirer and the Wife. The Committee is assuming that the scope of Inquirer's engagement by Husband and the companies did not include an intent that Inquirer provide legal services, or otherwise establish an attorney-client relationship with Wife. The Inquirer should check his engagement letter, to be sure that the scope of the engagement has been clearly and carefully defined pursuant to Rule of Professional Conduct 1.2. Assuming that the engagement letter comports with the facts described in the inquiry letter, there appears to be no attorney-client relationship existing between Inquirer and Wife at any time.

Given the above conclusion, the conflict prohibitions of Rules 1.7 and 1.9 are inapplicable. There is no conflict of interest and Inquirer need not withdraw from representing Husband in connection with the divorce proceedings.

   

The Philadelphia Bar Association's Professional Guidance Committee provides, upon request, advice for lawyers facing or anticipating facing ethical dilemmas. Advice is based on the consideration of the facts of the particular inquirer's situation and the Rules of Professional Conduct as promulgated by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. The Committee's opinions are advisory only and are based upon the facts set forth. The opinions are not binding upon the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania or any other Court. They carry only such weight as an appropriate reviewing authority may choose to give it.