ABA issues new guidance for how lawyers should respond to online criticism, negative reviews

The American Bar Association Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility has released a formal opinion addressing the ethical obligations for lawyers  when they contemplate responding to online criticism and negative reviews.

Formal Opinion 496 notes lawyers are regularly targets of internet postings, and stresses ABA Model Rule of Professional Conduct 1.6(a) prohibits them from disclosing information relating to any client’s representation or information that could reasonably lead to the discovery of confidential information by another. The formal opinion adds a negative online review, alone, does not meet the requirements of permissible disclosure under the “self-defense” provision of ABA model rules.

The opinion said the lawyer may request the website or search engine host remove the post for a specific reason although the lawyer is still obligated not to disclose confidential information. The lawyer might also reach out to the client or former client to discuss the matter outside of the public arena.

If a lawyer chooses to respond publicly, permissible responses could include posting an invitation to contact the lawyer privately to resolve the matter or indicating that professional considerations preclude an online response.

The ABA Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility periodically issues ethics opinions to guide lawyers, courts and the public in interpreting and applying ABA model ethics rules to specific issues of legal practice, client-lawyer relationships and judicial behavior. Recent ABA ethics opinions are available on the ABA Center for Professional Responsibility.


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