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					Ethics Opinion                                                               Los Angeles County Bar Association Professional Responsibility and Ethics Committee

Formal Opinion No. 513: Cross-Examination of Former Client as
Expert Witness

  QUESTION PRESENTED: What ethical considerations apply when an attorney learns that a former client has been designated as an

  expert witness by an opposing party in a new matter?

  SUMMARY OF OPINION: Whether the attorney can undertake or continue the new representation depends largely on the nature of

  the information the attorney may have received from the prior representation and whether that information is material to his or her employ-

  ment in the new litigation such that confidential information from the former client might be used or disclosed in the course of the new
  representation. The options available to the attorney may also depend upon whether the conflict exists at the time the attorney under-
  takes the representation or arises at a later date when the former client is designated to appear as an expert witness. In either case,
  there is no ethical impropriety for the attorney to continue with the representation in the current matter, even in the absence of con-
  sent from the former client to the attorney’s new representation, so long as the attorney does not possess confidential information from
  the former client that would be material to the employment in the new matter.
  AUTHORITIES CITED: Business and Professions Code Section 6068(e)(1); California Rules of Professional Conduct, Rules 5 (former),

  3-310(B), 3-310(C)(1), 3-310(C)(2), 3-310(C)(3), and 3-310(E); California State Bar Formal Opinion No. 1996-146; American Airlines, Inc. v.

  Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton, 96 Cal. App. 4th 1017 (2002); Collins v. State of California, 121 Cal. App. 4th 1112 (2004); Flatt v.

  Superior Court, 9 Cal. 4th 275 (1994); Goldstein v. Lees, 46 Cal. App. 3d 614 (1975); Hernandez v. Paicius, 109 Cal. App. 4th 452 (2003);

  In re Complex Asbestos Litigation, 232 Cal. App. 3d 572 (1991); People ex rel. Department of Corporations v. SpeeDee Oil Change Systems,

  Inc., 20 Cal. 4th 1135 (1999); People v. Cox, 30 Cal. 4th 916 (2003); River West, Inc. v. Nickel, 188 Cal. App. 3d 1297 (1987); Shadow Traffic

  Network v. Superior Court, 24 Cal. App. 4th 1067 (1994).

FACTS                                                                           This duty survives the termination of the attorney-client relationship
Twenty years ago, the inquiring Attorney represented a doctor (the              and forever precludes the attorney from using or disclosing the con-
“Former Client”) in a medical board proceeding. The subject mat-                fidential information to the detriment of the former client. This duty
ter of the medical board proceeding and its disposition are con-                is captured in Business and Professions Code Section 6068(e)(1):
tained in public records. After plaintiff’s counsel designated the doc-             6068. It is the duty of an attorney to do all of the follow-
tor, who had been treating the plaintiff, as an expert witness in the               ing.…(e)(1) To maintain inviolate the confidence, and at every
case at hand, the attorney, without revealing any confidences, noti-                 peril to himself or herself to preserve the secrets, of his or her
fied plaintiff’s counsel of his prior professional relationship with the
expert. The client-expert had apparently not fully revealed to plain-            The LACBA Professional Responsibility and Ethics Committee (PREC) pre-
tiff’s counsel his former attorney-client relationship with the Attorney.        pares written opinions and responds to questions by lawyers concerning
The plaintiff’s attorney eventually moved to disqualify the Attorney.            lawyers’ ethical duties and responsibilities. You may access PREC's formal
                                                                                 opinions through the LACBA’s Web site at
                                                                                 ?pageid=427. Formal opinions are completed within six months to a year. If
                                                                                 you have a legal ethics issue (not currently in litigation), please contact
One of an attorney’s primary duties to a client is that of confidentiality.       Grace Danziger at (213) 896-6407 or

18 Los Angeles Lawyer December 2005
    client.1                                             client’s confidences is adverse to the          adverse party in pending litigation in which
    In order to protect clients and the duty of          interests of the former client. To be          the attorney is of record, involves different
confidentiality, California has adopted Rule              sure, rule 5 implies that an attorney          considerations and analysis, depending on
of Professional Conduct 3-310(E), which                  may accept employment on a matter in           whether the client/expert has been retained
provides:                                                reference to which he has before               before or after the attorney’s involvement in
    (E) A member shall not, without the                  obtained confidential information, but          the litigation. Accordingly, to discuss that
    informed written consent of the client               nothing in rule 5 sanctions the accep-         distinction, we have presented the following
    or former client, accept employment                  tance of such employment when the              two scenarios:
    adverse to the client or former client               representation of the interests of the             Scenario One—The Employment of an
    where, by reason of the representa-                  new client inherently tempts the attor-        Attorney after a Former Client Has Been
    tion of the client or former client, the             ney to reveal or improperly monopo-            Designated as an Expert by an Opposing
    member has obtained confidential                     lize the confidences of the old. Such a         Party.
    information material to the employ-                  reading of rule 5 would conflict with               The first scenario, in which an attorney is
    ment.                                                the policies underlying section 6068,          offered employment by a new client after
    At its core, this rule is designed to prohibit       subdivision (e), of the Business and           his or her former client has been designated
an attorney from accepting a new engagement              Professions Code; it would needlessly          as an expert by the opposing party, presents
that will cause a conflict between the duty               permit attorneys to create the appear-         a straightforward application of Rule 3-
owed to a present or former client to main-              ance of impropriety. Nor would such            310(E) to an attorney who is evaluating
tain inviolate that client’s confidences and              an interpretation offer assistance to          whether he or she is ethically permitted to
the duty owed to the new client to compe-                the new client. Clients are entitled to        take on the new representation. Consistent
tently represent that client. Where the attor-           vigorous and determined representa-            with the requirements of Rule 3-310(E), the
ney possesses confidential information from               tion by counsel. It is difficult to believe    threshold question is whether the attorney
a former or existing client that would be uti-           that a counsel who scrupulously                has “obtained confidential information (from
lized in the representation of the new client,           attempts to avoid the revelation of            the former client) material to the (new)
a conflict arises.2                                       former client confidences—i.e., who             employment.”
    The adversity requirement in Rule 3-                 makes every effort to steer clear of the           Information from a prior representation
310(E) does not require formal adversity,                danger zone—can offer the kind of              could conceivably be material in a variety of
such as litigation between the two clients.              undivided loyalty that a client has            ways. For example, it could be material to the
Rather, as explained in American Airlines, Inc.          every right to expect and that our legal       very substance of the dispute in the new lit-
v. Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton, 96               system demands. Rule 5 operates to             igation. More likely, on the facts presented
Cal. App. 4th 1017, 1039 (2002), adversity               preclude any impediment to the ful-            here, confidential information obtained dur-
within the meaning of this rule can be created           fillment of an attorney’s professional          ing the course of representing the former
in a variety of contexts where the former                obligation to his client by proscribing        client might be useful in cross-examining the
client’s interest in confidentiality may be put           any conflict of interest in his repre-          expert to discredit him or her in the new lit-
at risk by an attorney’s new employment:                 sentation of past and present clients.         igation. It may or may not be the case that
    It is inconsequential that American                  (American Airlines at 1041-42.)                such information is sufficient to implicate
    was not a party to the ADO lawsuit.                  When an attorney does possess material,        the proscription of Rule 3-310(E). (See, e.g.,
    The proscription against adverse                 confidential information from a former client,      People v. Cox, 30 Cal. 4th 916, 950 (2003),
    representation exists whenever coun-             the attorney must obtain the former client’s       holding that, in the context of a criminal
    sel’s employment is adverse to the               informed written consent and may not               trial, no conflict existed when the prosecution
    client or former client, and can exist           attempt to evade the conflict by agreeing          witness was the defense attorney’s former
    even though a prior client is not a              with the new client to restrict the use of any     client and the attorney did not possess con-
    party to the litigation (Metro-                  confidential information. As the American           fidential information.)
    Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc. v. Tracinda                  Airlines court explained:                              Accordingly, if the attorney possesses con-
    Corp., 36 Cal. App. 4th 1832, 1843                   It is anathema to the Rules of                 fidential information from the former client
    (1995)). Conflicts of interest may                   Professional Conduct to suggest that an        that would be material to his or her employ-
    arise in a variety of circumstances                  attorney can place himself in a situa-         ment in the new matter (i.e., information
    where an attorney assumes a role                     tion in which he undertakes adverse            that would be used or disclosed in the rep-
    other than as an attorney at law                     representation of a third party, and           resentation of the new client)—the attorney
    adverse to an existing client (Cf.                   the client cannot object because the           may not accept the new representation in
    Manfredi & Levine v. Superior Court,                 attorney has promised not to disclose          the absence of an informed, written consent
    66 Cal. App. 4th 1128, 1132-33                       the client’s confidential information          from both the former and current clients. As
    (1998)).                                             even though the information may be             noted above, the attorney cannot circumvent
    Accordingly, Rule 3-310(E) “seek[s] to               decidedly helpful to the new client. It        the proscription set forth in Rule 3-310(E) by
avoid allowing an attorney to take a role                is precisely this compromised situa-           agreeing with the new client that he or she will
that places him in actual or potential conflict           tion, when the burden of deciding              not use any confidential information obtained
with a client.” (American Airlines at 1040.)             which client to favor is placed solely on      from the former client in the new represen-
    Relying on Goldstein v. Lees, 46 Cal.                the attorney’s shoulders and within            tation.
App. 3d 614 (1975), American Airlines read               the attorney’s sole power to decide,               Scenario Two—A Former Client Is
Rule 3-310(E), which was preceded by former              that Rule 3-310 is designed to avoid.          Designated as an Expert Witness by an
Rule 5, as follows:                                      (American Airlines at 1039.)                   Adverse Party Where the Former Attorney Is
    Clearly, the acceptance of employment                We believe that the application of an attor-   Already of Record in the Same Matter.
    which threatens the revelation or                ney’s duty of confidentiality, where a former           In this second scenario, the attorney is
    improper monopolization of a former              client has been retained as an expert by an        representing the new client in litigation before

                                                                                                                       Los Angeles Lawyer December 2005 19
the former client has been designated as an       the new client in an unrelated matter before        new client. (See River West, Inc. v. Nickel,
expert witness by opposing counsel. Thus, it      learning that a former client was somehow           188 Cal. App. 3d 1297, 1313 (1987), where
is the former client and opposing counsel         involved in that new matter. In the instant         disqualification of trial counsel for plaintiff
who have created the potential or actual          inquiry, the inquiring Attorney had accepted        was reversed on appeal, notwithstanding that
conflict. Additional relevant concerns are        employment of the New Client before learn-          this attorney had represented the defendant
whether opposing counsel was aware that           ing that his Former Client had treated the          30 years earlier in a substantially related mat-
the expert was a former client of the attor-      plaintiff, which could be read to permit the        ter, because defendant’s present attorney had
ney and whether he or she may have                continuation of the preexisting representation      impliedly waived the right to disqualify the
employed the expert as a tactic to disqual-       as the New Client’s attorney of record.             attorney by waiting too long to raise the
ify that attorney. Unlike the attorney in the         Nonetheless, as noted above, Rule 3-            conflict issue after plaintiff’s counsel had
first scenario, who did not yet represent the     310(E) does not stand alone; instead, it must       engaged in substantial time and discovery in
new client when the expert witness/former         be read with Section 6068(e)(1), which              the matter.)6
client was designated, this attorney has          requires an attorney to protect the secrets of          The committee notes that judicial involve-
already undertaken representation of the          a former client. In the event that a reasonably     ment in such factual scenarios was contem-
new client before the expert witness/former       prudent attorney would conclude that the            plated by Hernandez v. Paicius, 109 Cal.
client has come into the case, and the attor-     secrets and confidences that came into his or        App. 4th 452, in which it was stated:
ney has done nothing to create the potential      her possession when previously representing             Our disposition of this issue should
or actual conflict.3                              an expert witness/former client would be                not be construed as suggesting that
    As discussed in Goldstein v. Lees, 46 Cal.    material to a new client’s case, the attorney           disqualification of counsel is the appro-
App. 3d at 620, the attorney’s duty of care       can continue representation in the event that           priate remedy in all cases in which
and loyalty to the new client includes the        the former client provides an informed, writ-           one party’s attorney represents an
obligation to provide vigorous representation,    ten consent after written disclosure, in com-           expert designated by the other side. A
which may require a thorough and compre-          pliance with Rule 3-310(C). If the expert               party’s right to select counselor of his
hensive cross-examination of the former           witness/former client refuses to provide writ-          or her own choosing may trump the
client and now opposing expert. As in the first    ten consent, the attorney may ethically seek            opposing party’s freedom to choose
scenario, if the attorney does not possess        judicial determination as to whether the for-           an expert whose designation creates a
confidential information material to the new       mer client has waived confidentiality and the            conflict. And while we know [the
employment, he or she may continue the            right to assert the conflict, by having agreed           expert] was a percipient treating physi-
representation of the new client without vio-     to be retained as an opposing expert in a               cian as well as a designated expert,
lating the attorney’s duty of confidentiality to   matter in which the former client’s attorney            the facts developed at trial as to how
the former client. Consequently, as the first      has a preexisting role as counsel for an oppos-         and when the problems surfaced are
step in the analysis, if the attorney does not    ing party.5                                             not sufficiently clear to allow us to
possess any confidential information about             Judicial intervention might take different          formulate a rule of general applica-
the expert witness/former client or does not      forms, depending on the particular facts in             tion. We can say without hesitation,
possess confidential information material to       potential prejudice to the attorney’s new               however, that if the conflict has not
the current case, there is no conflict. (For       client. For example, the new client may be              been resolved by the time the client/wit-
example, if the subject matter of the previous    substantially disadvantaged (both in terms of           ness is called to the stand, the court is
representation was wholly unrelated to the        efficacy and cost) if his or her attorney is            faced with an insuperable obstacle to
current case and of no use or relevance on        forced to leave the case in midstream. (See In          going forward—an attorney with two
cross-examination, the attorney is free to        re Complex Asbestos Litigation, 232 Cal.                clients in circumstances where he or she
continue representing the new client, and no      App. 3d 572, 586 (1991) [in concurrent con-             can be loyal to only one. The court
further analysis is necessary.) However, it       flict situations, considerations, inter alia, for        cannot permit, much less preside over,
must be remembered that the attorney, in          disqualification are the client’s right to be rep-       an attorney’s attack on his or her own
any event, will be required by Rule 3-310(B)      resented by counsel of his or her choice and            client. Rather, in the interest of the
to disclose in writing to the new client the      the financial burden on the client in replac-            integrity of the bench and bar, it must
nature of the attorney’s relationship with the    ing disqualified counsel] and Hernandez v.               declare a mistrial.7 (Hernandez at 467-
expert witness/former client.                     Paicius, 109 Cal. App. 4th 452, 467 (2003)              468.)
    The more complex question is raised in the    [“A party’s right to select counsel of his or
context where the attorney possesses confi-        her own choosing may trump the opposing             CONCLUSION
dential information from the former client        party’s freedom to choose an expert whose
that may be material to the new employ-           designation creates a conflict.”].) Accordingly,     If an attorney is asked to accept representa-
ment, thereby creating potential conflicts        the attorney might request that the former          tion of a client in a matter in which a former
with both the former and new clients.             client be precluded from acting as an expert        client of the attorney has already been des-
    As a threshold matter, we note that under     because of the unfair consequence to the            ignated as an expert witness, the attorney
a textual analysis, Rule 3-310(E) does not        attorney’s current client if the attorney was       must determine if his or her present employ-
apply to the second scenario. Rule 3-310(E)       unable to remain in the case. Alternatively,        ment might require the attorney to use or
states that a member may not accept employ-       the attorney might request that the court           disclose confidences obtained from the former
ment under the constraints set forth in the       order, if the former client stayed in the case      client and now expert. If so, Rule 3-310(E)
rule. The rule does not—as do other por-          as an expert witness, that the former client’s      mandates that the attorney may accept the
tions of Rule 3-310—restrict a member from        decision constitutes a limited waiver of the        representation only with the informed writ-
continuing representation when the con-           attorney’s duty of confidentiality, to the          ten consent of the former client.
straints of the rule are met.4 By the very        extent the attorney might find it reasonably             Where the attorney’s involvement in the
nature of its terms, the rule does not apply if   necessary to use or disclose confidential infor-     matter preceded the former client/expert’s
the attorney began his or her employment for      mation in order to properly represent the           designation, or if the former client does not

20 Los Angeles Lawyer December 2005
consent to such involvement, the attorney
has options other than asking for the consent                                             MEDIATOR
of the former client. In such a case, the attor-
ney may ethically seek an appropriate order                                          •   20 Years of Experience in Business,
from the court, which could include that the                                             Real Estate, Entertainment, Commercial,
expert be precluded from testifying if another                                           Employment, Insurance and Trust Litigation.
expert is available to the opposing party;                                           •   15 years of teaching conflict resolution
that the former client’s decision to serve as an
expert constitutes a waiver of the privilege; or                                     •   JD degree and PhD in Communication
that the former client may not serve as an                                           •   Los Angeles Superior Court ADR Panel
expert witness unless the former client agrees                Joan Kessler
to a limited waiver of any duty of confiden-
                                                                       telephone (310) 552-9800 facsimile (310) 552-0442
tiality as it pertains to the pending case.
    This opinion is advisory only. The com-                      1901 Avenue of the States, Suite 400, Los Angeles, California 90067
mittee acts on specific questions submitted ex
parte, and its opinion is based on the facts set
forth in the inquiry submitted.                s

1  Two types of “confidence” are derived from the
statute. One refers to confidential information in the
sense of a client secret (Department of Corps. v.
SpeeDee Oil Change Sys., Inc., 20 Cal. 4th 1135, 1146
(1999); Cal. State Bar Formal Op. 1996-146). The
second means that an attorney must maintain the trust
given by the client (Cal. State Bar Formal Op. 1996-
2 Flatt v. Superior Court, 9 Cal. 4th 275, 277 (1994),

notes that the chief fiduciary value jeopardized by an
attorney’s successive representation of clients with
potentially adverse interests is that of client confiden-
tiality whereas in potentially conflicting, simultane-
ous representations, the attorney’s duty of loyalty is also
3 Collins v. State of Cal., 121 Cal. App. 4th 1112, 1131

(2004), provides, in part, that the knowing employment
of an opposing party’s expert may be grounds for dis-
4 Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 3-310(E) provides

that “A member shall not, without the informed writ-
ten consent of the…former client, accept employment
adverse to the…former client where, by reason of the
representation of the…former client, the member has
obtained confidential information material to the
                                                                JACK TRIMARCO & ASSOCIATES
5 It is also probably prudent, before seeking judicial

relief, that the attorney advise opposing counsel of his      POLYGRAPH/INVESTIGATIONS, INC.
or her former representation of the expert witness and
request that the witness be withdrawn. (See Shadow
Traffic Network v. Superior Court, 24 Cal. App. 4th
1067, 1088 (1994), recommending that an attorney
who learns that his or her previously retained expert
has been hired by an opposing party should first talk
                                                                                                             9454 Wilshire Blvd.
with that attorney about not using the expert before
moving to disqualify the attorney.)
                                                                                                                 Sixth Floor
6 While the committee believes that the attorney could

ethically pursue these orders (and there may be other
                                                                                                           Beverly Hills, CA 90212
appropriate remedies as well), the attorney should
keep in mind that care must be taken not to reveal any
                                                                                                             (310) 247-2637 TEL
confidential information until an appropriate court                                                           (760) 777-1836 FAX
issues an order that would permit the attorney to do
so. (See Collins, 121 Cal. App. 4th 1112, noting that,
as to a motion to disqualify an opposing attorney for                Jack Trimarco - President
having retained an expert already hired by the moving              Former Polygraph Unit Chief
party, that the moving party must provide, without dis-            Los Angeles F.B.I. (1990-1998)
closing confidential information, the nature of the                        CA. P.I. # 20970
information allegedly imparted to and possessed by the                                                
expert as well as its material relationship to the pro-
ceeding.)                                                        Member Society of Former Special Agents   Former Polygraph Inspection Team Leader
7 In Hernandez v. Paicius, the plaintiff’s medical expert,          Federal Bureau of Investigation             Office of Counter Intelligence
who was concurrently represented by defense counsel’s                                                             U.S. Department of Energy
law firm as to malpractice and discipline proceedings,
was vigorously cross-examined by that counsel.

                                                                                                                     Los Angeles Lawyer December 2005 21

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