ABA plans changes to confidentiality rule

US lawyers may soon be free to blow the whistle on clients planning to use them to commit crime under proposals being mooted by the American Bar Association (ABA).

ABA rules forbid lawyers from disclosing information without consent, except to prevent imminent death or substantial bodily harm. The new rule would allow disclosure if lawyers believe they are being used in crimes which could result in substantial financial loss to others.

The chair of the New York bar's ethics committee Steven Krane is said to be against the proposal because of the need for lawyers to maintain discretion.

Raymond Trombadore, a leader of the New Jersey bar, however, says the rule will deliver lawyers from “the horns of a dilemma” and allow them to protect themselves from civil liability.

The rule would give US lawyers more freedom of disclosure than UK lawyers enjoy.

Law Society head of professional ethics, Alison Crawley, says that UK lawyers can sometimes break their silence – particularly in money-laundering cases – but it is important to maintain client confidentiality.

She says: “I am not sure we would want to go any further or faster than we have at the moment. If we encourage solicitors to whistle-blow willy-nilly, they can face a breach of contract from the client. It's right that solicitors need to think long and hard before they start breaching confidentiality.”