Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss recent proposed North Carolina Bar 2020 Formal Ethics Opinion 1, which states that lawyers are prohibited from revealing confidential information in response to a negative online post; however, the lawyer can make a “proportional and restrained” response. Proposed NC Bar 2020 Formal Ethics Opinion 1 is here: https://www.ncbar.gov/for-lawyers/ethics/proposed-opinions/
At its meeting in January 2020, the North Carolina State Bar Council adopted an ethics opinion stating that lawyers may post “a proportional and restrained” response to negative online reviews by former clients, but are prohibited from disclosing confidential information. North Carolina lawyers have until March 30, 2020 to comment on the proposed ethics opinion.
The proposed ethics opinion responds to an inquiry by a North Carolina lawyer who believed that some online comments by a former client were false. The lawyer believed he could rebut the allegations using confidential information. The proposed ethics opinions states that lawyers are prohibited from revealing confidential information without client consent, or unless an exception applies.
The ethics opinion discusses the exception to the confidentiality rule that permit a lawyer to reveal confidential information to the extent the lawyer reasonably thinks is necessary to defend a criminal charge or civil claim based on the client’s conduct, to establish a claim or defense in a controversy between the lawyer and client, or to respond to allegations in any proceeding involving the lawyer’s representation of the client.
The opinion discusses what it calls the “self-defense” exception, which permits a lawyer to reveal confidential information to defend him or herself applies to legal claims and disciplinary charges arising in a civil, criminal, disciplinary or other proceeding and states that “(a) negative online review does not fall within these categories and, therefore, does not trigger the self-defense exception.”
Florida, Pennsylvania, Texas, and New York Ethics Opinions have made similar conclusions. My August 2018 blog on the Florida Bar Board of Governor’s approval of Florida Bar Staff Opinion 38049, which states that a lawyer may post only a limited response to a negative online review that the lawyer said falsely accused her of theft and may not reveal attorney/client confidences is here: https://jcorsmeier.wordpress.com/2018/08/01/florida-bar-professional-ethics-committee-approves-staff-opinion-addressing-lawyer-responses-to-negative-online-reviews/.
Bottom line: This proposed ethics opinion is consistent with other ethics opinions which have examined this issue, including Florida. Unless the exceptions to the rule are revised in the lawyer’s jurisdiction, lawyers will continue to be prohibited from providing confidential information in rebutting allegations in online reviews by clients or former clients.
Be careful out there.
Disclaimer: this e-mail is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.
Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire
Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.
2999 Alt. 19, Suite A
Palm Harbor, Florida 34683
Office (727) 799-1688
Fax (727) 799-1670