The tricky part of this question is found in this sentence: “You know the rules about lawyer-client confidentiality, but . . .” It’s tricky because unless there is a direct and credible threat of future violence, there is no allowable “but” to the principle of confidentiality.
Our legal system may not be perfect (understatement here), but its functioning depends upon clients being able to trust that confidences with their legal advocates will be respected, within all the bounds that the system defines.
So whether or not I tell my friend depends on how I know what I think I know. And there are three possibilities.
If I’ve heard about his history in any way that is “privileged,” then I cannot share it. Full stop. Period. So I would consult with my lawyer-boss to see if there are any other options available to me.
If the man was convicted in the past, those convictions are a matter of public record. In that case, I could advise my friend to check out whether such a record exists. Whether she does so or not is then up to her, and she would likely need legal help to do so — from another law office, not mine.
The trickiest situation arises if what I’ve heard comes purely from the rumour mill. We all know that such rumours shouldn’t circulate in law offices. And we all know that, in fact, they do. So I’d really struggle with this. But at the end of the day, I think I’d tell my friend something like this: “You know, I really can’t tell you much without jeopardizing my job. So don’t ask me for me details. But I need to tell you that in the last little while, I’ve heard some rumours about your new friend. So please be careful.”
I’m not really sure if that’s right or wrong. But it’s what I would do.
If you enjoy reading our online stories about ethical living, justice and faith, please make a donation to the Friends of The Observer Fund. Supporting our award-winning journalism will help you and others to continue to access ucobserver.org for free in the months to come.