Informal Opinion Number: 20000103

Rules: 4-1.18; 4-1.7; 4-1.9
Client-Lawyer Relationship
Duties to Prospective Client
Summary: website and email

QUESTION: Attorney´s firm maintains a website which provides information about the attorneys in the firm and the nature of their practice. An e-mail hyperlink is provided for comments and questions from individuals who visit the site. Attorney´s firm has received unsolicited e-mails on a variety of subjects. They range from comments about the site to general questions for information to very detailed requests for legal representation. Often, it appears from the form of the e-mail that it has been sent to a number of attorneys and firms, not just Attorney´s firm. Does Attorney´s firm have an affirmative duty to respond to each and every request for information and representation? Based on whether or not a response is made, and the tone of the response, the individual sending the e-mail could possibly conclude that any attorney-client relationship has been created. Conversely, the lack of response may be interpreted by the sender as the acceptance of representation.
ANSWER: By providing the opportunity to contact Attorney by e-mail through Attorney´s website, Attorney exposes Attorney´s firm to certain risks. One of the primary risks is that an attorney-client relationship will be established. The creation of that relationship may cause Attorney to have obligations to that client. Even if Attorney clearly inform the potential client that Attorney is declining representation, depending on the extent and nature of the communication, it may create a conflict that would prevent Attorney from representing another party in the matter. There is no blanket answer to Attorney´s question. The nature of Attorney´s obligation would depend on the nature of the communication. Attorney should also contact Attorney´s malpractice carrier for advice on this issue.

Informal Opinions are ethics advisory opinions issued by the Office of Legal Ethics Counsel to members of the Bar about Rule 4 (Rules of Professional Conduct), Rule 5 (Complaints and Proceedings Thereon), and Rule 6 (Fees to Practice Law) pursuant to Missouri Supreme Court Rule 5.30(c). Written summaries of select Informal Opinions are published for informational purposes as determined by the Advisory Committee of the Supreme Court of Missouri pursuant to Rule 5.30(c). Informal opinion summaries are advisory in nature and are not binding. These opinions are published as an educational service and do not constitute legal advice.

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