Professional Guidelines

An agency of the Supreme Court of Virginia

The Virginia State Bar

Professional Guidelines

Rule 1.8

Conflict of Interest: Prohibited Transactions

  • (a) A lawyer shall not enter into a business transaction with a client or knowingly acquire an ownership, possessory, security or other pecuniary interest adverse to a client unless:
    • (1) the transaction and terms on which the lawyer acquires the interest are fair and reasonable to the client and are fully disclosed and transmitted in writing to the client in a manner which can be reasonably understood by the client;
    • (2) the client is given a reasonable opportunity to seek the advice of independent counsel in the transaction; and
    • (3) the client consents in writing thereto.
  • (b) A lawyer shall not use information protected under Rule 1.6 for the advantage of the lawyer or of a third person or to the disadvantage of the client unless the client consents after consultation, except as permitted or required by Rule 1.6 or Rule 3.3.
  • (c) A lawyer shall not solicit, for himself or a person related to the lawyer, any substantial gift from a client including a testamentary gift. A lawyer shall not accept any such gift if solicited at his request by a third party. A lawyer shall not prepare an instrument giving the lawyer or a person related to the lawyer any substantial gift from a client, including a testamentary gift, unless the lawyer or other recipient of the gift is related to the client. For purposes of this paragraph, a person related to a lawyer includes a spouse, child, grandchild, parent, or other relative or individual with whom the lawyer or the client maintains a close, familial relationship.
  • (d) Prior to the conclusion of all aspects of a matter giving rise to the representation of a client, a lawyer shall not make or negotiate an agreement giving the lawyer literary or media rights to a portrayal or account based in substantial part on information relating to the representation.
  • (e) A lawyer shall not provide financial assistance to a client in connection with pending or contemplated litigation, except that:
    • (1) a lawyer may advance court costs and expenses of litigation, the repayment of which may be contingent on the outcome of the matter; and
    • (2) a lawyer representing an indigent client may pay court costs and expenses of litigation on behalf of the client.
  • (f) A lawyer shall not accept compensation for representing a client from one other than the client unless:
    • (1) the client consents after consultation;
    • (2) there is no interference with the lawyer's independence of professional judgment or with the client-lawyer relationship; and
    • (3) information relating to representation of a client is protected as required by Rule 1.6.
  • (g) A lawyer who represents two or more clients shall not participate in making an aggregate settlement of the claims of or against the clients, or in a criminal case an aggregated agreement as to guilty or nolo contendere pleas, unless each client consents after consultation, including disclosure of the existence and nature of all the claims or pleas involved and of the participation of each person in the settlement.
  • (h) A lawyer shall not make an agreement prospectively limiting the lawyer’s liability to a client for malpractice, except that a lawyer may make such an agreement with a client of which the lawyer is an employee as long as the client is independently represented in making the agreement.
  • (i) A lawyer related to another lawyer as parent, child, sibling or spouse, or who is intimately involved with another lawyer, shall not represent a client in a representation directly adverse to a person whom the lawyer knows is represented by the other lawyer except upon consent by the client after consultation regarding the relationship.
  • (j) A lawyer shall not acquire a proprietary interest in the cause of action or subject matter of litigation the lawyer is conducting for a client, except that the lawyer may:
    • (1) acquire a lien granted by law to secure the lawyer's fee or expenses; and
    • (2) contract with a client for a reasonable contingent fee in a civil case, unless prohibited by Rule 1.5.
  • (k) While lawyers are associated in a firm, none of them shall knowingly enter into any transaction or perform any activity when one of them practicing alone would be prohibited from doing so by paragraphs (a), (b), (c), (d), (e), (f), (g), (h), or (j) of this Rule.


Transactions Between Client and Lawyer

[1] Rule 1.8(a) states the general principle that all transactions between client and lawyer should be fair and reasonable to the client. In such transactions a review by independent counsel on behalf of the client is often advisable. Furthermore, a lawyer may not exploit information relating to the representation to the client's disadvantage. For example, a lawyer who has learned that the client is investing in specific real estate may not, without the client's consent, seek to acquire nearby property where doing so would adversely affect the client's plan for investment. Paragraph (a) does not, however, apply to standard commercial transactions between the lawyer and the client for products or services that the client generally markets to others, for example, banking or brokerage services, medical services, products manufactured or distributed by the client, and utilities services. In such transactions, the lawyer has no advantage in dealing with the client, and the restrictions in paragraph (a) are unnecessary and impracticable.

[2] Use of information protected by Rule 1.6 for the advantage of the lawyer or a third person or to the disadvantage of the client violates the lawyer's duty of loyalty. Paragraph (b) applies when the information is used to benefit either the lawyer or a third person, such as another client or business associate of the lawyer. For example, if a lawyer learns that a client intends to purchase and develop several parcels of land, the lawyer may not use that information to purchase one of the parcels in competition with the client or to recommend that another client or third party make such a purchase. Paragraph (b) prohibits the use of a client’s confidential information for the advantage of the lawyer or a third party or to the disadvantage of the client unless the client gives informed consent, except as permitted or required by these Rules. See Rules 1.2(d), 1.6, 1.9(c), 3.3, 4.1(b). Paragraph (b) does not limit an attorney’s use of information obtained independently outside the attorney-client relationship.

[3 - 5] ABA Model Rule Comments not adopted.

[6] A lawyer may accept ordinary gifts from a client. For example, an ordinary gift such as a present given at a holiday or as a token of appreciation is permitted. If effectuation of a substantial gift requires preparing a legal instrument such as a will or conveyance, however, the client should have the detached advice that another lawyer can provide. Paragraph (c) recognizes an exception where the client is a relative of the donee or the gift is not substantial.

[7 - 8] ABA Model Rule Comments not adopted.

Literary Rights

[9] An agreement by which a lawyer acquires literary or media rights concerning the conduct of the representation creates a conflict between the interests of the client and the personal interests of the lawyer. Measures suitable in the representation of the client may detract from the publication value of an account of the representation. Paragraph (d) does not prohibit a lawyer representing a client in a transaction concerning literary property from agreeing that the lawyer's fee shall consist of a share in ownership in the property, if the arrangement conforms to Rule 1.5 and paragraph (j).

Financial Assistance

[10] Lawyers may not subsidize lawsuits or administrative proceedings brought on behalf of their clients, including making or guaranteeing loans to their clients for living expenses, because to do so would encourage clients to pursue lawsuits that might not otherwise be brought and because such assistance gives lawyers too great a financial stake in the litigation. These dangers do not warrant a prohibition on a lawyer lending a client court costs and litigation expenses, including the expenses of medical examination and the costs of obtaining and presenting evidence, because these advances are virtually indistinguishable from contingent fees and help ensure access to the courts. Similarly, an exception allowing lawyers representing indigent clients to pay court costs and litigation expenses regardless of whether these funds will be repaid is warranted.

Person Paying for a Lawyer's Services

[11] Paragraph (f) requires disclosure of the fact that the lawyer's services are being paid for by a third party. Such an arrangement must also conform to the requirements of Rule 1.6 concerning confidentiality, Rule 1.7 concerning conflict of interest, and Rule 5.4(c) concerning the professional independence of a lawyer. Where the client is a class, consent may be obtained on behalf of the class by court-supervised procedure.

Family Relationships Between Lawyers

[12] Paragraph (i) applies to related lawyers who are in different firms. Related lawyers in the same firm are governed by Rules 1.7, 1.9, and 1.10. The disqualification stated in paragraph (i) is personal and is not imputed to members of firms with whom the lawyers are associated.

[13-15] ABA Model Rule Comments not adopted.

Acquisition of Interest in Litigation

[16] Paragraph (j) states the traditional general rule that lawyers are prohibited from acquiring a proprietary interest in litigation. This general rule, which has its basis in common law champerty and maintenance, is subject to specific exceptions developed in decisional law and continued in these Rules, such as the exception for reasonable contingent fees set forth in Rule 1.5 and the exception for certain advances or payment of the costs of litigation set forth in paragraph (e).

Virginia Code Comparison

With regard to paragraph (a), DR 5-104(A) provided that a lawyer "shall not enter into a business transaction with a client if they have differing interests therein and if the client expects the lawyer to exercise his professional judgment therein for the protection of the client, unless the client has consented after full and adequate disclosure . . . ." EC 5-3 stated that a lawyer "should not seek to persuade his client to permit him to invest in an undertaking of his client nor make improper use of his professional relationship to influence his client to invest in an enterprise in which the lawyer is interested."

Paragraph (b) is substantially similar to DR 4-101(B)(3) which provided that a lawyer should not use "a confidence or secret of his client for the advantage of himself, or a third person, unless the client consents after full disclosure."

Paragraph (c) is substantially similar to DR 5-104(B) which stated that a lawyer "shall not prepare an instrument giving the lawyer or a member of the lawyer's family any gift from a client, including a testamentary gift, except where the client is a relative of the donee." EC 5-5 stated that a lawyer "should not suggest to his client that a gift be made to himself or for his benefit. If a lawyer accepts a gift from his client, he is peculiarly susceptible to the charge that he unduly influenced or overreached the client. If a client voluntarily offers to make a gift to his lawyer, the lawyer may accept the gift, but before doing so, he should urge that the client secure disinterested advice from an independent, competent person who is cognizant of all the circumstances. Except in those instances in which the client is related to the donee, a lawyer may not prepare an instrument by which the client gives a gift to the lawyer or to a member of his family."

Paragraph (d) has no direct counterpart in the Virginia Code. EC 5-4 stated that in order to avoid "potentially differing interests" a lawyer should "scrupulously avoid [literary arrangements with a client] prior to the termination of all aspects of the matter giving rise to the employment, even though [the lawyer's] employment has previously ended."

Paragraph (e)(1) incorporates the provisions of DR 5-103(B), including the requirement that the client remain "ultimately liable" for such advanced expenses.

Paragraph (e)(2) has no direct counterpart in the Virginia Code, although DR 5-103(B) allowed a lawyer to advance or guarantee expenses of litigation as long as the client remained ultimately liable.

Paragraph (f) is substantially similar to DR 5-106(A)(1) and DR 5-106(B). DR 5-106(A)(1) stated: "Except with the consent of his client after full and adequate disclosure under the circumstances, a lawyer shall not . . . [a]ccept compensation for his legal services from one other than his client." DR 5-106(B) stated that "[a] lawyer shall not permit a person who recommends, employs, or pays him to render legal services for another to direct or regulate his professional judgment in rendering such legal services."

Paragraph (g) is substantially similar to DR 5-107, but also covers aggregated plea agreements in criminal cases.

The first portion of Paragraph (h) is essentially the same as DR 6-102(A), but the second portion of Paragraph (h) has no counterpart in the Virginia Code. The new provision allows in-house lawyers to arrange for the same indemnity available to other officers and employees, as long as their employers are independently represented in making the arrangement.

Paragraph (i) has no counterpart in the Virginia Code.

Paragraph (j) is substantially the same as DR 5-103(A).

Paragraph (k) had no counterpart in the Virginia Code.

Committee Commentary

The Committee added "for the advantage of himself or a third person" from DR 4-101(B)(3) to paragraph (b) as a further limitation on a lawyer's use of information relating to representation of a client.

The Committee added a further time limitation to paragraph (d)'s restriction. Borrowing language from EC 5-4, the restriction on agreements giving a lawyer literary or media rights extends through the conclusion of "all aspects of a matter giving rise to the representation."

In Rule 1.8(e)(1), the Committee retained the requirement in DR 5-103(B) that a client must "remain ultimately liable for [litigation] expenses." However, the Committee adopted the limited exception for indigent clients that appears in Rule 1.8(e)(2).

After lengthy debate, the Committee adopted 1.8(h), which retains the general prohibition on lawyers prospectively limiting their malpractice liability to clients (which appeared in Virginia Code DR 6-102). However, the Committee added a limited exception that allows in-house lawyers to arrange for the type of indemnity that other officers and employees of entities may obtain. The Committee voted to insist that the client be independently represented in agreeing to any such arrangement.

In 1.8(i), the Committee adopted the ABA Model Rule approach, which permits lawyers who are members of the same nuclear family to represent clients adverse to each other, as long as both clients consent after full disclosure. The Virginia Code was interpreted to create a non-waivable per se conflict of interest in these circumstances. See LEO 190 (April 1, 1985).

The amendments effective January 1, 2004, in paragraph (c), added new first and second sentences; in current third sentence, deleted “as parent, child, sibling, or spouse” between the present words “lawyer” and “any substantial,” and substituted “unless the lawyer or other recipient of the gift” for “except where the client,” substituted “client” for “donee” and added the third sentence; added paragraph (k); in Comment [1], added the last sentence.

The amendments effective February 15, 2019, in paragraph 1.8(e)(1) replaced “provided the client remains ultimately liable for such costs and expenses” with “the repayment of which may be contingent on the outcome of the matter.” Added the title “Financial Assistance” immediately preceding the addition of new Comment [10].

The amendment effective February 20, 2022. Rule 1.8(b) previously used the phrase “information relating to the representation of a client,” which is the same as the ABA standard for confidentiality but is broader than our Rule 1.6. The amendment revises 1.8(b) to mirror 1.6 and then adds new Comment [2] (which is adapted from ABA Model Comment [5]) to provide some context for 1.8(b). This is a substantive change to the rule, since it changes the standard for information protected under the rule from “information relating to the representation of a client” to “information protected by the attorney-client privilege under applicable law or other information gained in the professional relationship 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,” and it effectively equalizes the standard between Rules 1.6 and 1.8. Under the prior language, Rule 1.8(b) protected a different set of information than Rule 1.6 does, and since Rule 1.6 is the primary rule on confidentiality, the Committee determined that its standard should be applied throughout the rules.

Updated: February 17, 2022