Lawyers’ response to online comments sharply limited: ABA Formal Opinion 496

Source: OTHERWISE: Lawyers’ response to online comments sharply limited: ABA Formal Opinion 496

Lawyers’ ability to respond to online criticism is sharply limited by both confidentiality and prudential concerns according to the ABA’s newly issued Formal Opinion.  The opinion largely tracks the opinions of bar associations, and official ethics committees.
One of the closer questions is what constitutes a controversy between attorney and client, relieves the lawyer of certain strictures of confidentiality under RPC 1.6.  The ABA Committee opines:
even if an online posting rose to the level of a controversy between lawyer and client, a public response is not reasonably necessary or contemplated by Rule 1.6(b) in order for the lawyer to establish a claim or defense on behalf of the lawyer in a controversy between the lawyer and the client. Comment [16] to Rule 1.6 supports this reading explaining, “Paragraph (b) permits disclosure only to the extent the lawyer reasonably believes the disclosure is necessary to accomplish one of the purposes stated.”
It is, however, a noteworthy suggestion that

A lawyer may request that the host of the website or search engine remove the post. This may be particularly effective if the post was made by someone other than a client. If the post was made by someone pretending to be a client, but who is not, the lawyer may inform the host of the website or search engine of that fact. In making a request to remove the post, unless the client consents to disclosure, the lawyer may not disclose any information that relates to a client’s representation or that could reasonably lead to the discovery of confidential information by another, but may state that the post is not accurate or that the lawyer has not represented the poster if that is the case.

= GWC

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