Social Media Is Eyeball To Eyeball With Legal Ethics, And Guess Who Blinked First?

Online consumer complaints about lawyers on sites like Avvo and Yelp have been driving lawyers crazy. The ethics rules on client confidentiality prohibit a lawyer from defending him (her) self online, because that requires revealing details of the representation. Two years ago, the Colorado Bar suspended a lawyer’s license d for six months after he responded to a negative online review and revealed that the complaining client had bounced a check and committed unrelated felonies. Lawyers are also generally prohibited from suing their clients for false statements about them in disciplinary complaints, but there have been exceptions. In Blake v. Giustibelli, the Fourth District Court of Appeal upheld a $350,000 libel judgement for a lawyer  against a divorcing couple who posted an online review that falsely accused the attorney of inflating fees and falsifying a contract.

Now Florida, one of the strictest jurisdiction regarding attorney ethics, has allowed a tiny crack in the wall. The Florida Bar Ethics Committee voted 18-0 to approve a Florida Bar Staff Opinion that “permits an inquiring attorney to post a limited response to a negative online review that the attorney says falsely accuses her of theft.” The Florida Bar says that  the increasing frequency of negative online reviews mandate some loosening of the rules. “An attorney is not ethically barred from responding to an online review by a former client where the former client’s matter has concluded,” the opinion states. “However, the duty of confidentiality prevents the attorney from disclosing confidential information about the prior representation absent the client’s informed consent or waiver of confidentiality.”

You can read more about the Bar Committee’s findings on the Florida Bar website here.

4 thoughts on “Social Media Is Eyeball To Eyeball With Legal Ethics, And Guess Who Blinked First?

  1. I like one of the recommendations in the article:

    “A lawyer’s duty to keep client confidences has few exceptions and in an abundance of caution I do not feel at liberty to respond in a point by point fashion in this forum. Suffice it to say that I do not believe that the post presents a fair and accurate picture of the events.”

    But given the current state of ignorance of legal ethics by the public at large I’m not sure that would have any effect on someone reading the response.

  2. “But given the current state of ignorance of legal ethics by the public at large ….”
    I’m not too sure that’s an entirely bad thing. Imagine all the lies by vindictive former clients if it were generally known what soft, defenseless targets lawyers are in these review sites

  3. Medical professionals are in the same situation as lawyers with regard to consumer review sites. Ethical concerns prevent making any specific response to a complaint. Rather than make a non-specific response along the lines of the one suggested in the article, I think it better to just trust that potential patients will read multiple reviews and be able to appropriately evaluate them. I would prefer that someone who is willing to believe the worst of me based on a Yelp review not come to see me anyway.

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