114 N.J.L.J. 477
November 8, 1984
Reversed, In re Advisory Opinion 544
103 N.J. 399 (1986)
Client Information to Funding
Sources of Non-Profit Legal Services Project
The Inquirer is a member of the Bar and Executive Director of
a Health Law Project which provides legal services to indigent,
disabled persons. He inquires whether certain information which the
organization receives from these persons, in connection with their
need for legal services, will violate the attorney-client privilege
if the information is disseminated to the organizations which
provide funding through grants for the support of the project.
We are informed that the Project has been designated by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as a legal aid society. It receives funds from both private and public sources. It is obligated to make periodic reports to the various fund sources about the services provided.
We are also informed that state regulations and those of certain private services, require that client data be reported from time to time. Some of the information is computerized and thus, disseminated among several governmental divisions.
The inquirer has furnished a number of exhibits, including the contract services information, monthly service reports, group service forms, county community development reports, and other forms regularly used. We have carefully examined these forms and find nothing in the information requested which would violate client secrets or confidences within the meaning of DR 4-101(A) or DR 4-101(C)(l). These are the sections that the inquirer believes to be applicable. We point out that the DR's were superseded on September 10, 1984 by the Rules of Professional Conduct adopted by the Supreme Court of New Jersey. DR 4-101 is now encompassed by RPC 1.6 "Confidentiality of Information". DR 4-101 cited by the inquirer refers to confidences and secrets imparted to an attorney by the client. DR 4-101(A) refers to secrets "that the client has requested be held inviolate or the disclosure of which would be embarrassing or would be likely to be detrimental to the client." The inquirer is troubled by an ABA Informal Opinion #1287 (1974), which held that the name, address, and telephone number of a client of Legal Services are "secrets" within the meaning of DR 4-101. In a later opinion, ABA Informal Opinion #1934 (1977), that committee ruled that the state inspection of the fiscal records of a legal service organization would not constitute a revelation of client confidential information if the information did not identify the client or if the client consented to the full disclosure.
The various information forms which a participant in the Project is required to sign reveal that the information sought is limited to background information concerning family, place of living, income level, and things of that nature. One form in particular, known as "Participation Information Form" has 35 questions. Those which would seem to elicit confidential information need not be answered by the participant if he or she does not desire to answer. These questions are prefaced by a statement saying that a waiver must be obtained before questions 21 through 35 are answered by the client. If the client refuses to answer them, relief is not denied to the client so far as the data furnished to us reveals. The questions appear to be those which are of necessity required to be answered to provide a basis for assisting, the participant and also to furnish information to the funding agencies so that they can closely monitor the information on their computers against other information to be sure that the participant is not seeking to obtain help from several different agencies.
We believe that the ABA opinions are unnecessarily restrictive and are not the law in New Jersey. As Justice Handler stated in his concurring opinion in In re Kozlov, 79 N.J. 232, 247 (1979), "[t]here has been general recognition in different contexts that the traditional attorney-client privilege does not cloak identity per se." And he went on to say, "In addition, doubts as to the breadth of the attorney-client privilege ought to be settled by narrowing, rather than widening, its scope." Id. at 248.
There is obvious need in these community service organizations to obtain personal information to ascertain whether the individual qualifies for the relief sought, and to report to the funding authorities the numbers of people consulted, the action taken, and the results obtained.
To participate in this particular plan, an individual must of course reveal personal information in order to qualify for the private grant funds and information is required by law in connection with the public funding of the Project. RPC 1.6(c)(3) says that a lawyer shall reveal information to the proper authorities "to comply with other law."
None of the reporting forms request any information as to what the client tells the attorney concerning his or her need for the services of the Project. A copy of a form of report made by the Project to the various funding organizations as to the actions taken on behalf of clients, particularly court actions, merely refer to the action brought, the nature of it, and the results obtained. No clients' names or addresses are involved.
It is our view that the obtaining of the information requested of participants by the Project and the distribution of that information to the private and public funding organizations involved does not violate any confidences of the clients of the Project.