Original post 3/1/20
The North Carolina State Bar has issued a proposed ethics opinion on whether it is ethical for attorneys to reply to negative online reviews of their services. Any interested person or group may submit a written comment – including comments in support of or against the proposed opinion – or request to be heard concerning a proposed opinion. The Ethics Committee welcomes and encourages the submission of comments, and all comments are considered by the committee at the next quarterly meeting. Any comment or request should be directed to the Ethics Committee c/o Lanice Heidbrink at email@example.com no later than March 30, 2020.
The opinion does not really add much to what other similar opinions have concluded in other jurisdictions. Essentially, it concludes that attorneys can reply to negative reviews but that they need to be careful not to disclose confidential information in the process. As Brian Faughnan states in his blog, "Given the broad scope of confidentiality under the ethics rules, this outcome offers little room for lawyers to offer much of a response."
In his comment to the opinion, Faughnan also questions whether a lawyer can disclose confidential information in a response to a review prior to filing a lawsuit against the reviewer arguing based on the exception to the rule that allows disclosure in support of a claim by the lawyer against the client. He concludes, and I agree, that this would still be a violation of the rules.
I am not familiar with the specific rule in North Carolina, but for a disclosure to be valid as an exception to the rule under Model Rule 1.6, the disclosure has to be only "to the extent reasonably necessary" to achieve the goal of the exception to the rule. And a public disclosure is not necessary to support a lawsuit, let alone a lawsuit that is yet to be filed.
You can read the opinion here. You can read Brian Faughnan's comment here.
Lawyer Ethics Alerts Blog has a comment here.
Legal Ethics Lawyer has a comment here.
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