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Ethics of Water Law for Practitioners


Understand the challenges associated with representing multiple clients in the water law field, as well as the unique concerns.

It is a bedrock principle in the legal profession that an attorney owes each client duties of loyalty and of confidentiality. Representation of two or more clients in the same legal matter carries a host of potential conflicts in both an ethical and practical sense. In the realm of water rights, multiple clients often have interests in the same matter, making the identification of potential conflicts a complex analysis. This topic will describe the challenges associated with representing multiple clients in the water law field, as well as the unique concerns when representing multiple public agencies or a combination of public and private clients. The material also provides real-life examples that illustrate the importance of carefully addressing joint representations and potential conflicts to navigate the surrounding ethical complexities. Lastly, the topic will explain when waivers may be necessary, and how they are formed and executed. Failure to implement adequate precautionary measures can lead to adverse consequences for clients, disqualification, and even disciplinary action for attorneys. This material is useful for understanding the pitfalls in representing multiple clients and how to avoid them.



Meredith E. Nikkel

Meredith E. Nikkel

Downey Brand LLP

  • Partner in the Water Practice Group at Downey Brand LLP in Sacramento, California
  • Practice addresses complex legal issues with novel solutions at all levels from administrative proceedings before the California State Water Resources Control Board to state and federal trial and appellate courts
  • Has successfully defended public agencies in writ proceedings, settled multi-party groundwater disputes both informally and in court, and represented a broad group of water users in administrative and state court proceedings related to the California WaterFix project
  • In representing clients across California, regularly analyzes ethical issues related to representations of individuals, private entities and public entities as well as potential conflicts of interest and conclusion of representation
  • An editor of the California Water Law & Policy Reporter and was named one of the Sacramento Business Journal's Top 40 Under 40 in 2019
  • After graduating from University of California at Berkeley and Stanford Law School, Meredith was a law clerk to the Honorable Barry Silverman of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals
  • Can be contacted at 916-444-1000 or [email protected]
Austin C. Cho

Austin C. Cho

Downey Brand LLP

  • Senior Associate in the Water Practice Group at Downey Brand LLP in Sacramento, California
  • Assists public agencies and private clients in a variety of matters, including surface and groundwater rights concerns, environmental permitting, and project development and financing
  • Regularly advises on Proposition 218 compliance, the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), and the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)
  • Serves as general counsel to various local agencies and advises on the Brown Act, Public Records Act, and laws governing public bidding, contracting, and elections
  • Has published articles in the California Water Law & Policy Reporter and the California Bar Environmental Section’s Environmental Law News
  • J.D. degree, University of California, Davis, School of Law; undergraduate degree, University of California, Santa Barbara
  • Can be contacted at 916-444-1000 or [email protected]

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