A Suicidal Client

Q.  We have a client who revealed he is considering committing suicide due to a possible federal grand jury indictment. (1) are we violating the attorney-client privilege if we inform his wife or another party we believe can intervene to help? (2) do we have any liability vis a vis our knowledge of what he has confided in us if he in fact carries out what he intends?

A.  Please keep in mind that we are here primarily to answer questions related to mental health, behavior, human practice issues, etc.  We clearly cannot advise you on liability issues (such as the consequences of failing to act), and for that we suggest you contact your general liability and malpractice insurers.

With regard to the question of whether to act, the best information sources would be the Mass Board of Bar Overseers’ Ethics Hotline, at 617-728-8750 (2 to 4 pm, M/W/F).  We also refer you to MBA Ethics Opinion 01-2, the summary of which states:

A lawyer may notify family members, adult protective agencies, the police, or the client’s doctors to prevent the threatened suicide of a client if the lawyer reasonably believes that the suicide threat is real and that the client is suffering from some mental disorder or disability that prevents him from making a rational decision about whether to continue living.

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