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The Confidentiality Series

Confidentiality and Funder Reporting Requirements: Ethical Considerations for Releasing Client Information

Lawyers in every U.S. jurisdiction have an ethical requirement to protect client confidentiality, and a legal privilege to prevent disclosure of attorney-client communications in court.  However, nonprofit lawyers may be subject to grant requirements or contract provisions that create a different obligation around information-sharing and confidentiality.  Legal services providers cannot assume that funders of legal services understand lawyer confidentiality rules.  This is especially true in an era that encourages collaboration and facilitates broad data collection.  Many funding streams that were not designed with lawyers in mind now allow funding to be used to provide direct legal services.  To stay in compliance with professional ethics, grant conditions, and contract terms, nonprofit legal services providers will need to pay attention to the differences between attorney ethics and funding rules, negotiate for appropriate confidentiality provisions, and train staff to both implement any heightened privacy requirements required and resist inappropriate demands for confidential and privileged information.  This tool will help programs to ask the right questions and take the necessary steps to properly protect client information.

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Confidentiality and Disclosures to Prevent Death or Serious Bodily Harm

Beginning early in law school, lawyers are told repeatedly that confidentiality with clients is of the utmost importance and should always be respected—except, when it should not be.  There are, of course, exceptions to every rule, including the ethical rule of attorney-client confidentiality.  Some exceptions are very practical, like an exception to check for conflicts or to defend yourself if a client sues for malpractice.  But other exceptions are harder to implement and require difficult judgment calls.  This tool will help lawyers working with victims of domestic and sexual violence to think through best practices for breaching confidentiality to prevent reasonably certain death or substantial bodily harm.

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Confidentiality and Mandatory Reporting of Child Abuse

Nearly all U.S. states and territories have enacted mandated reporting laws for child abuse, aimed at preventing or intervening in child maltreatment. These laws designate specific categories of people who have an obligation to report child abuse or neglect when they have reason to know it has occurred or is occurring.  However, states vary regarding which individuals are required to make these reports, what must be reported, and to whom reports are made.  All this variation can make it difficult for professionals to determine their duty, and even more difficult for victims of domestic and sexual violence to assess the consequences of sharing information about their experience of abuse.

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Confidentiality and Multidisciplinary Practice

This tool will help nonprofit managers and lawyers by laying out: The areas of potential ethical and legal trouble that should be researched locally; The resolutions that have been reached in some jurisdictions and may be applicable locally; and the practical questions about avoiding conflicts of interest and protecting attorney-client privilege that should be answered before embarking on the provision of legal services within a social or victim services nonprofit.

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