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e-CFR data is current as of January 14, 2021

Title 32Subtitle AChapter VISubchapter GPart 776Subpart B → §776.29

Title 32: National Defense
Subpart B—Rules of Professional Conduct

§776.29   Imputed disqualification: General rule.

(a) Imputed disqualification: General rule. Covered USG attorneys working in the same military law office are not automatically disqualified from representing a client because any of them practicing alone would be prohibited from doing so by §776.26, §776.27, §776.28, or §776.38 of this part. Covered non-USG attorneys must consult their federal, state, and local bar rules governing the representation of multiple or adverse clients within the same office before such representation is initiated, as such representation may expose them to disciplinary action under the rules established by their licensing authorities.

(b) Comment. (1) The circumstances of military (or Government) service may require representation of opposing sides by covered USG attorneys working in the same law office. Such representation is permissible so long as conflicts of interests are avoided and independent judgment, zealous representation, and protection of confidences are not compromised. Thus, the principle of imputed disqualification is not automatically controlling for covered USG attorneys. The knowledge, actions, and conflicts of interests of one covered USG attorney are not imputed to another simply because they operate from the same office. For example, the fact that a number of defense attorneys operate from one office and normally share clerical assistance would not prohibit them from representing co-accused at trial by court-martial. Imputed disqualification rules for non-USG attorneys are established by their individual licensing authorities and may well proscribe all attorneys from one law office from representing a co-accused, or a party with an adverse interest to an existing client, if any attorney in the same office were so prohibited.

(2) Whether a covered USG attorney is disqualified requires a functional analysis of the facts in a specific situation. The analysis should include consideration of whether the following will be compromised: Preserving attorney-client confidentiality; maintaining independence of judgment; and avoiding positions adverse to a client. See, e.g., U.S. v. Stubbs, 23 M.J. 188 (CMA 1987).

(3) Preserving confidentiality is a question of access to information. Access to information, in turn, is essentially a question of fact in a particular circumstance, aided by inferences, deductions, or working presumptions that reasonably may be made about the way in which covered USG attorneys work together. A covered USG attorney may have general access to files of all clients of a military law office (e.g., legal assistance attorney) and may regularly participate in discussions of their affairs; it may be inferred that such a covered USG attorney in fact is privy to all information about all the office's clients. In contrast, another covered USG attorney (e.g., military defense counsel) may have access to the files of only a limited number of clients and participate in discussion of the affairs of no other clients; in the absence of information to the contrary, it should be inferred that such a covered USG attorney in fact is privy to information about the clients actually served but not to information of other clients. Additionally, a covered USG attorney changing duty stations or changing assignments within a military office has a continuing duty to preserve confidentiality of information about a client formerly represented. See §776.25 and §776.28 of this part.

(4) In military practice, where covered USG attorneys representing adverse interests are sometimes required to share common spaces, equipment, and clerical assistance, inadvertent disclosure of confidential or privileged material may occur. A covered attorney who mistakenly receives any such confidential or privileged materials should refrain from reviewing them (except for the limited purpose of ascertaining ownership or proper routing), notify the attorney to whom the material belongs that he or she has such material, and either follow instructions of the attorney with respect to the disposition of the materials or refrain from further reviewing or using the materials until a definitive resolution of the proper disposition of the materials is obtained from a court. A covered attorney's duty to provide his or her client zealous representation does not justify a rule allowing the receiving attorney to take advantage of inadvertent disclosures of privileged and/or confidential materials. This policy recognizes and reinforces the principles of: Confidentiality and the attorney-client privilege; analogous principles governing the inadvertent waiver of the attorney-client privilege; the law governing bailments and missent property; and considerations of common sense, reciprocity, and professional courtesy.

(5) Maintaining independent judgment allows a covered USG attorney to consider, recommend, and carry out any appropriate course of action for a client without regard to the covered USG attorney's personal interests or the interests of another. When such independence is lacking or unlikely, representation cannot be zealous.

(6) Another aspect of loyalty to a client is the general obligation of any attorney to decline subsequent representations involving positions adverse to a former client in substantially related matters. This obligation normally requires abstention from adverse representation by the individual covered attorney involved, but, in the military legal office, abstention is not required by other covered USG attorneys through imputed disqualification.

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