Lawyers who claimed that former clients posted false, misleading, and/or inaccurate statements about the lawyer on online reviews asked the Attorney Ethics Board, formally known as the New Jersey Advisory Committee on Professional Ethics (NJACPE), whether they may publicly respond to these negative online reviews.

In response, the Attorney Ethics Board stated that lawyers are permitted to respond to online reviews posted by clients, former clients or prospective clients, but that any response cannot reveal “information relating to representation,” except information that is “generally known,” unless the client consents to the release of the information. Hence, according to the recently issued NJACPE Opinion 738, lawyers may express general disagreement with the client’s, former client’s or prospective client’s statements, they may not reveal confidential “information relating to the legal representation.”

While the ethics rules permit a lawyer to disclose confidential client information necessary to defend against a discipline charge or legal malpractice action brought by the client, or to pursue an action seeking legal fees from the client, an informal “controversy” between a lawyer and a prospective or former client, arising from the posting of a negative online review, does not fall within that exception to the general ethics rule prohibiting the disclosure of client information. In other words, lawyers may not disclose confidential client information merely to protect their reputation in response to negative online comments.

The Pennsylvania Bar Association suggested that lawyers respond to a negative online review with this language: “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.” The NJACPE agreed that this language from the Pennsylvania Bar Association is in accord with New Jersey lawyers’ ethical obligations.

New Jersey Advisory Committee on Professional Ethics – Opinion 738 –

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