The Wisconsin State Bar Standing Committee on Professional Ethics (of which I am a member) recently approved Formal Opinion EF-21-01, which clarifies when you can threaten someone with criminal prosecution to gain advantage in a civil manner (and withdraws a 2001 opinion).

The opinion notes that a prior rule banning the practice outright was repealed in 2007. Now, however, lawyers are cautioned to tread carefully, and avoid doing so unless the civil and criminal matters are related to each other and both are well founded.

The opinion also differentiates between threatening to report purported criminal conduct and threatening to report misconduct to the Office of Lawyer Regulation—the latter is prohibited, because the Rules prohibit limits on the right to report misconduct and because in certain circumstances the lawyer is required to report others’ misconduct (which is an obligation that cannot be bargained away).

And, as usual, whether you can and whether you should may be separate discussions.