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New York City Bar Association Issues Formal Opinion on Ethical Duties Concerning Self-Represented Persons

Eric Friedman
(212) 382-6754

New York City Bar Association Issues Formal Opinion on Ethical Duties Concerning Self-Represented Persons

New York , February 9, 2009 – The New York City Bar Association’s Committee on Professional and Judicial Ethics has issued a formal opinion on “Ethical Duties Concerning Self-Represented Persons.”

The opinion, numbered 2009-02, states that DR 7-104(A)(2) of the Code of Professional Responsibility “permits a lawyer to advise a self-represented person adverse to the lawyer’s client to seek her own counsel and to make certain other related statements.” These statements may include, where appropriate, “identification of general issues that the self-represented person should address with a lawyer; undisputed statements of fact or law such as the position of the lawyer’s client on a contested issue; and references to court-sponsored programs designed to assist a self-represented litigant. A lawyer may at any time explain or clarify the lawyer’s role to the self-represented litigant and advise that person to obtain counsel. The lawyer must volunteer this information if she knows or should know that a self-represented person misunderstands the lawyer’s role in the matter.”

The opinion cites the sharp increase in the number of self-represented litigants in the New York State Unified Court System, recently estimated at nearly 1.8 million, and the likelihood that the number will substantially increase due to the widespread foreclosure and credit crises. The opinion states that self-representation by inexperienced individuals can create challenges not only for the individual and for the functioning of the tribunals but that “failure to intercede when the self-represented person is acting under a misapprehension may adversely affect the interests of the lawyer’s client. For example, there could be prejudicial delay or additional expense if, as the result of a failure to correct a material misimpression, issues need to be re-litigated, agreements set aside, or attorneys disqualified.”

The opinion can be found at

About the Association
The New York City Bar Association ( was founded in 1870, and since then has been dedicated to maintaining the high ethical standards of the profession, promoting reform of the law, and providing service to the profession and the public. The Association continues to work for political, legal and social reform, while implementing innovative means to help the disadvantaged. Protecting the public’s welfare remains one of the Association’s highest priorities.