So Your Attorney Told You Not to Talk to the Other Party in New York?

Every day parties hire lawyers to “resolve” a dispute, to “negotiate” a transaction, to “settle” a matter that has arisen between two entities or individuals. The attorney often jumps into the fray (swords raised), has discussions with the other lawyer, and, sometimes, those communications get garbled leaving the process damaged, the parties angry, and the matter not resolved. “Garbled” is the polite term, but a less idealistic view might suggest that the negotiations got garbled by the fact that lawyers have their own interests of professional reputation, or purse strings, or other undisclosed reasons for muddying the water. Personally, I don’t respect attorneys who practice that way, but they will all have excuses as to why the communication was presented in the way it was. So, what am I to do, I cannot contact a party represented by another lawyer?

Can I have my client contact the other client directly, and can I tell them what to say?

Truthfully, I have counseled my clients to contact the other side directly, without the filter of an attorney; but I have often been concerned that such advice, while practical, might not be ethical or responsible under our code of professional ethics. In my gut, I always thought it proper, but I had a nagging sense that other attorneys might disagree. I thank my bretheran at the NYSBar Association who have now set forth an ethics opinion sanctioning such conduct by issuing an opinion about when and how a New York attorney might advise their client to contact the other side directly.

Bottom line– Parties to a legal matter have the right to communicate directly with each other. A lawyer may advise a client of that right and may assist the client regarding the substance of any proposed communication. The lawyer’s assistance need not be prompted by a request from the client. Such assistance may not, however, result in overreaching by the lawyer.