Informal Opinion Number: 2018-08

Adoption Date: 2018

Rules: 4-1.6; 4-1.9
Client-Lawyer Relationship
Confidentiality of Information
Duties to Former Clients
Subject: Confidentiality; Email and Electronic Communications
Summary: responding to online reviews

Question: May Attorney respond to a negative online review about the representation of a former client if Attorney confines the response to comments directed to information already disclosed by the former client in the review?
Answer: In most circumstances, Rules 4-1.9(c) and 4-1.6 prohibit Attorney from revealing information relating to the representation of a client in response to a negative online review, even where the client or someone writing on behalf of the client has posted criticism of the quality of Attorney’s representation. Per Rule 4-1.9(c), Attorney has a duty to a former client not to reveal confidential information except as would be permitted with respect to a client. A negative online review generally does not constitute a “controversy” sufficient to trigger the exception in Rule 4-1.6(b)(3) and permit a lawyer to reveal confidential information to the extent reasonably necessary to establish a defense in a controversy between the lawyer and the client. Even if the information is not privileged as a matter of law such that Attorney could be compelled to disclose it in a legal proceeding, Rule 4-1.6 does not permit the voluntary disclosure of confidential information by Attorney in response to an online review. See Comment [3]. Rule 4-1.6 protects all information related to the representation, whatever its source. Comment [3]. Also prohibited are disclosures by a lawyer that do not reveal protected information but could reasonably lead to the discovery of such information by a third person. Comment [4]. If Attorney chooses to post a response to an online review, the response may acknowledge an attorney’s obligation to comply with professional obligations and must reveal no information related to the representation in violation of Rule 4-1.6.

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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