81-F-14 - Vacated*

 

*Vacated by the Board of Professional Responsibility on September 11, 2015 due to changes in the law or rules.

FORMAL ETHICS OPINION 81-F-14

 

An opinion has been requested on the following question:

May an attorney tape record a discovery deposition in a civil lawsuit for the purpose of voice stress analysis, not for evidence but as an investigative tool for later questioning, without telling the witness or adverse counsel his purpose for taping the testimony?

ABA Formal Opinion No. 337 (1974) states as follows:

So far as clients and other attorneys are concerned, the prior Informal Opinion makes the conclusion clear. Attorneys must not make recordings without the consent of the parties to the conversation ...

While the law is not clear or uniform as to recording by lawyers of conversations of "other persons", it is difficult to make a distinction in principle. If undisclosed recording is unethical when a party is a client or a fellow lawyer, should it not be unethical if the recorded person is a layperson? Certainly the layperson will not be likely to perceive the ground for distinction.

At least by analogy to Formal Opinion 150, secret recording by attorneys of conversations of any person is unethical, even though legal under Federal Law.

This Board adopts the ruling of ABA Formal Opinion No. 337 and concludes that the secret recording of conversations by an attorney is unethical.  

However, if the intent to record a conversation is disclosed to the other person in advance, there is no Canon or principle which requires the attorney making the recording to divulge to the other parties all of his reasons or purposes for making the recording, unless inquiry is made by the recorded party. In the event of such inquiry, the attorney must be candid and may not deceive the inquirer, either by commission or omission.

This 23rd day of July, 1981.

ETHICS COMMITTEE:

W. H. Lassiter
Randall Burcham
George E. Morrow

APPROVED AND ADOPTED BY THE BOARD