While it is common and even preferable for a divorcing couple to utilize the same attorney in mediation, there are clear guidelines that generally prevent one spouse from hiring the other spouse’s former attorney in a trial divorce case.
The american Bar Association (ABA) Rules of Professional Conduct (RPC) rule 1.7 states:
(a) Except as provided in paragraph (b), a lawyer shall not represent a client if the representation involves a concurrent conflict of interest. A concurrent conflict of interest exists if:
(1) the representation of one client will be directly adverse to another client; or
(2) there is a significant risk that the representation of one or more clients will be materially limited by the lawyer’s responsibilities to another client, a former client or a third person or by a personal interest of the lawyer. (RPC rule 1.7: Conflict of Interest: Current Clients)
Rule 1.9 of the same code states the following:
(a) A lawyer who has formerly represented a client in a matter shall not thereafter represent another person in the same or a substantially related matter in which that person’s interests are materially adverse to the interests of the former client unless the former client gives informed consent, confirmed in writing.
(b) A lawyer shall not knowingly represent a person in the same or a substantially related matter in which a firm with which the lawyer formerly was associated had previously represented a client
(1) whose interests are materially adverse to that person; and
(2) about whom the lawyer had acquired information protected by Rules 1.6 and 1.9(c) that is material to the matter; unless the former client gives informed consent, confirmed in writing.
(c) A lawyer who has formerly represented a client in a matter or whose present or former firm has formerly represented a client in a matter shall not thereafter:
(1) use information relating to the representation to the disadvantage of the former client except as these Rules would permit or require with respect to a client, or when the information has become generally known; or
(2) reveal information relating to the representation except as these Rules would permit or require with respect to a client. (RPC rule 1.9: Duties to Former Clients)
Therefore, the RPC code of the ABA clearly lays out that a lawyer cannot represent your spouse in your divorce case, not only if he or she has represented you, but also if the lawyer’s current or previous firm has represented you in this case.
Further, a lawyer who has represented you or whose firm has represented you in the past in any way cannot represent your spouse in other matters, without your written consent, and may not use any information collected during your representation to your detriment.
Changing divorce lawyers is not uncommon. Often, in a time of great stress, a person chooses a divorce lawyer hastily or at the recommendation of another person without doing thorough review. Sometimes it’s just a matter of personalities not clicking. Whatever your reason for changing your lawyer, be sure to retain a new lawyer first, so that you are not without representation for a moment. Once you’ve signed the agreement with your new lawyer, inform the other in writing and request your file be sent to the new attorney by a given date.
If you have any questions, contact us here at Ulmer Legal and Mediation Services to see how we can help you.