Lessons Learned from Penn State--Part II: Avoid Potential Conflicts Early, Know Who Your Client Is, and Make Sure Others Know It Too
The Penn State scandal was, in many ways, the perfect storm that any organization dreads. What could organization counsel have done differently as the scandal unfolded? In this installment we focus on avoiding conflicts early, knowing who your client is, and making sure others in the organization know too.
The Freeh report alleged that the University's general counsel, Cynthia Baldwin, advised the Board of Trustees against conducting an internal investigation and accompanied the two University administrators who were indicted for failing to report what they knew about Jerry Sandusky's conduct, Vice President Gary Schultz and Athletic Director Tim Curley, to the grand jury. The report also alleges that both Schultz and Curley believed that Baldwin represented them personally during their grand jury testimony, and that Baldwin failed to clarify that she represented only the University.
Counsel for any organization has a legal and ethical duty to make clear to "constituents" of the organization--directors, officers, employees, members, shareholders--that he or she represents only the organization, and not the constituent, when the lawyer knows or reasonably should know that the organization's interests are adverse to those of the constituent. In Pennsylvania, this duty is set forth at Rule 1.13 of the Rules of Professional Conduct. Organization counsel needs to make this distinction clear to all constituents early in the investigation.
If you think about it, most people in the situation that Schultz and Curley found themselves in would assume that the organization's counsel represented both the organization and them--unlike lawyers, most are not familiar with how conflicts of interest in such situations may arise, and don't think these things through. It is incumbent upon organization counsel to explain this distinction.
This post continues after the jump.