These summaries were prepared by McGuireWoods LLP lawyer Thomas E. Spahn. They are based on the letter opinions issued by the Virginia State Bar. Any editorial comments reflect Mr. Spahn's current personal views, and not the opinions of the Virginia State Bar, McGuireWoods or its clients. 
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LEO NumTopicsSummary

8-Bills and Fees

17-Fraud on the Tribunal

31-Protecting and Disclosing Confidences and Secrets

56-Duty to Advise the Court

73-Family Law Lawyers

A lawyer represented a client in a divorce. After the representation ended, the former client filed for bankruptcy. The former client listed the lawyer's bill as a debt, but failed to list assets that were included in the publicly filed divorce property settlement agreement. The Bar held that the existence of these assets could still be a secret "despite the fact that others share the same information or the information is a matter of public record." The lawyer may therefore only reveal the fraud on the bankruptcy court if the lawyer's duty of confidentiality was outweighed by some other duty. The lawyer had no such other duty here, because the fraud: (1) did not occur during the course of the attorney-client relationship; and (2) did not relate to the subject matter of the representation. Furthermore, the lawyer may not reveal the confidences "to establish the reasonableness of his fees" because the client did not dispute the fees. The lawyer therefore may not reveal the fraud on the bankruptcy court. As the Bar explained it, "the protection of client confidences and secrets is so fundamental to the attorney-client relationship that any exceptions to the bedrock principle must be strictly limited."

Copyright 2000, Thomas E. Spahn