Most bankruptcy attorneys offer a free consultation, and during that consultation they will have the opportunity to review financial documents of the potential client. This usually will include tax returns, pay stubs, bills and bank statements. More complex cases may also require additional information like court judgments, divorce decrees, insurance policies and appraisals. Because the consultation is free, and no formal attorney-client relationship is created, many individuals are concerned about the protection of their information following the consultation. This concern may be heightened in the event that the consumer opts not to file a bankruptcy case, or does not file with that particular attorney. However, even if the client does not hire that particular attorney, they still have protection under the rules of the State Bar of Georgia. [i]
Client confidentiality is covered under Rule 1.6 of the State Bar of Georgia Rules of Conduct which reads in part, “A lawyers shall maintain in confidence all information gained in the professional relationship with a client…unless the client gives informed consent.” The purpose of this protection is to allow the client (or potential client) to be candid and forthcoming with information, even though it may be embarrassing or damaging. This full disclosure allows the attorney to better counsel the client about their rights and remedies. Most important for a potential client is that this protection also extends to someone who has consulted with a bankruptcy attorney, even though that attorney was never retained.[ii]
Consumers considering bankruptcy may feel especially vulnerable and ashamed, especially when they are witnessing a complete stranger reviewing their most sensitive financial information. It is for this reason that the Rule 1.6 regarding client confidentiality is posted in every conference room at Leiden & Leiden as further reassurance that everything that is disclosed and discussed will not become public knowledge. Most attorneys, like those at Leiden & Leiden, take the responsibility of client confidentiality very seriously. Details of client discussions, especially any identifying information, are not disclosed to spouses, friends or anyone who is not part of the lawyer’s staff. At Leiden & Leiden, documents that are provided by potential clients as part of the consultation are not removed from the office. In addition, documents provided by potential clients are only retained in their paper form, and are not scanned or uploaded.[iii] Unless otherwise instructed by a potential client, all documents will be shredded after 6 months to protect the confidentiality of that individual.
Even if a client selects a different attorney, the duty of confidentiality remains. And under the conflict of interest rules of the State Bar of Georgia, a consulted bankruptcy attorney could not undertake adverse representation against a potential client who may file bankruptcy with another attorney. So a potential client who meets with an attorney for a free consultation does not need to worry that the consulted attorney may use the information that they obtain to represent a creditor or other party who may oppose the debtor’s bankruptcy filing.
No bankruptcy attorney should be hesitant to address your questions or concerns about privacy and confidentiality. Complete and candid disclosure of information allows us to give better advice and recommend the right bankruptcy solution. Additionally, it may also prevent an unnecessary bankruptcy filing. As a result, bankruptcy attorneys want potential clients to be as comfortable as possible so that the consultation can be productive, and the concerns and questions of the potential clients are addressed.
[i] This article is based on Georgia law, and the rules of other states regarding attorney conduct may be different.
[ii] Unlike many legal areas of specialty, the Bankruptcy Code requires a signed retainer agreement detailing the scope of representation and fees to be charged to establish representation.
[iii] Once Leiden & Leiden is retained, some of the documents will have to be scanned and uploaded onto our secure network as required by the Bankruptcy Court. However, no client information is stored on any portable electronic device, such as a smartphone or laptop, which could be stolen or misplaced.