104 N.J.L.J. 193
August 30, 1979
Attorney Applicant for Casino
License - Disclosing Law Firm's Records
An attorney has applied to the New Jersey Gaming Control
Commission for a casino license. The Enforcement Commission seeks
to examine all bank accounts or books of corporations in which the
applicant attorney has an interest. He is a member of a law firm
organized as a professional corporation. The question is whether
or not the law firm or the attorney applicant may permit the
Enforcement Commission to examine the books, records and bank
accounts of the applicant's law firm without first obtaining the
approval of clients whose accounts and activities are recorded
A law firm's books, records, and bank accounts usually contain information as to names, addresses and occupations of clients, legal activities pursued for the clients, statements rendered and payments made for legal services, clients' monies passing through trust accounts and records of clients' assets and their location.
The information pertaining to clients in such records of the law firm is presumed to have been made in professional confidence. N.J.S.A. 2A:84A-20(3). DR 4-101 requires the attorney to protect both the confidences and the secrets of a client. Further, the "attorney client privilege is more limited" than the obligation to guard confidences and secrets. Hence, a lawyer must take care not only to preserve the evidentiary privilege, but his clients' "confidences and secrets" as well. See ABA Code of Professional Responsibility Canon 5, Ethical Considerations, par.4.
In the application of the above we hold that the inquiring attorney and his firm must refuse to disclose the firm's books, records and accounts containing information within the "attorney client" privilege and those which constitute the confidences and secrets of the client without the consent of clients except where the exceptions in DR 4-101(C) apply. Nothing in this opinion should be construed as an interpretation of the powers of the New Jersey Gaming Control Commission to demand and receive appropriate information. Thus, if the appropriate regulations require the disclosure of information which the applicant may not disclose consistently with his ethical obligations, his obvious course would be to withdraw his application for a license.