To Protect or to Serve: Confidentiality, Client Protection and Domestic Violence
62 Pages Posted: 2 Feb 2009 Last revised: 17 Mar 2009
Date Written: January 1, 2006
This article provides information about the ethical realities of representing battered women. It addresses a compelling problem, whether the attorney for an adult victim of domestic violence can or should disclose confidential communications for the protection of the lawyer's own client.
The article considers situations in which an attorney might wish to notify authorities about a risk to a victim-client after considering his or her duty to maintain client confidences, respect client autonomy and, most importantly, ensure the safety of the victim. For the attorney who wishes to act for the protection of the client, the 2002 amendments to the Revised Model Rules of Professional Conduct, Rule 1.6(b)(1), in particular, may provide a safe harbor in limited situations and in those states adopting the changes.
Although an attorney might be inclined to make impulsive judgments about the need for legal intervention in a particular case, such actions may place the client at greater risk. For this reason, the article includes research to guide the attorney in more accurately assessing the danger to the client.
Keywords: Women, Domestic Violence, Intimate Partner Violence, Abuse, Professional Responsibility, Confidentiality
JEL Classification: K39
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation