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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67-Lawyers Acting as Guardians Ad Litem"

A lawyer acting as a guardian ad litem for a 7-year-old girl (who has asked the lawyer not to disclose her father's abusive behavior -- which the father denies) must balance the duty of confidentiality with his role as a GAL under Virginia Supreme Court Rule 8:6. "[L]awyers serving as GALs are subject to the Rules of Professional Conduct as they would be in any other case, except when the special duties of a GAL conflict with such rules," and must generally protect the child's confidences. However, the GAL's compliance with Supreme Court Rule 8:6 and the Standards governing GALs "may justify the disclosure of confidential information "pursuant to Rule 1.6(b)(1) which allows the disclosure of confidences "to comply with law or a court order." For example, "the GAL may learn from the child that a custodian is taking illegal drugs and may use that information to request that the court order drug testing of the custodian." Because "the GAL not only serves as the child's advocate but is obliged to identify and recommend the outcome that best serves the child's interests," the GAL "needs to investigate information obtained from and about the child in order to ascertain certain facts," after which the GAL can assess "the risk of probable harm to the child" and then determine "whether the GAL has a duty, as an advocate for the child's best interests, to disclose to the court or appropriate authority information necessary to safeguard the best interests of the child. That disclosure would be permitted in light of the Committee's analysis earlier in this opinion of Rule 1.6(b)(1), where a lawyer can reveal protected information to the extent reasonably necessary to comply with law."

Copyright 2000, Thomas E. Spahn