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Ethics Opinion

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February 28, 1986


    A lawyer who previously prepared tax returns for a husband and wife may represent one spouse against the other in proceedings subsequent to their divorce, provided that representation of the opposing spouse has ceased and the current representation would not result in a conflict of interest or use or disclose confidences of the opposing spouse.

    References: MCPR Canons 4 and 5; DR 4-101(B)(2) and (3), DR 5-105(A) and (B); CI-465.


A lawyer has been asked to represent a wife seeking a deed and payments that the former husband was ordered to provide in the divorce judgment. Prior to filing of the divorce, the lawyer represented the spouses in preparation of joint income tax returns. The lawyer states that there is no information in those returns which would be relevant to the current post-judgment proceedings.

MCPR Canon 4 requires a lawyer to preserve the confidences and secrets of clients; MCPR Canon 5 requires a lawyer to exercise independent professional judgment on behalf of clients. We are told that that any secrets discovered through the prior tax representation do not pertain to the present representation, nor would they be used in any way in those proceedings. DR 4-101(B)(2) & (3) would prohibit representation in this proceeding if that were not the case. There is no reason to think that the lawyer's independent professional judgment would be affected in this matter, since the lawyer does not currently represent the former husband and has not done so for more than two years.

This committee previously stated in CI-465 that a lawyer may represent an existing client in an action against a former client in a matter entirely unrelated to the prior representation, if the representation would not result in a conflict of interest or disclosure of confidences of the former client.



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