Editor's Note: This opinion was originally published as RPC 128 (Second Revision).
Communication with Adverse Corporation's House Counsel
Opinion rules that a lawyer may not communicate with an adverse corporate party's house counsel, who appears in the case as a corporate manager, without the consent of the corporation's independent counsel.
Attorney A represents plaintiff corporation in an action to recover life insurance proceeds under a "key man" policy covering an officer of the corporation who is now deceased. Attorney B appears as counsel of record for the life insurance company, a foreign corporation, defending on the basis of a suicide exclusion in the life insurance policy. At the trial of the action, Mr. C appeared as the corporate representative for the insurance company. Mr. C is an assistant general counsel for the insurance company. Although Mr. C is an attorney, he appeared at trial as a person having managerial responsibility on behalf of the defendant. Mr. C did not appear as counsel of record in the pending litigation and is not licensed in the State of North Carolina.
A jury verdict of suicide was returned in favor of the defendant insurance company. Attorney A filed a motion for JNOV or new trial. Before the time for the defendant's response had expired, Attorney A attempted to contact Attorney B in order to enter into settlement negotiations. Attorney B's secretary advised Attorney A that Attorney B and his associate, who was also counsel of record in the action, were both on vacation. Attorney A then telephoned Mr. C directly, without the knowledge or consent of Attorney B or his associate. Attorney A advised Mr. C that both Attorney B and his associate were on vacation and asked whether he could speak directly with Mr. C, knowing Mr. C to be a lawyer with general counsel's office for the defendant insurance company. Mr. C agreed to talk directly with Attorney A, and an agreement to settle the lawsuit prior to post-trial motions was reached without the advice or input of Attorney B or his associate.
Did Attorney A act properly in contacting Mr. C without the knowledge or consent of the adverse corporate party's independent counsel of record?
No. Since Mr. C. participated at trial as a person having managerial responsibility, Rule 7.4(a) prohibited Attorney A from contacting him concerning the case without the consent of the corporation's counsel of record.
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