Bar Associations

Facebook group becomes Texas' largest voluntary bar association; can lawyers use advice ethically?

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A private group on Facebook called the Texas Lawyers has more than 11,000 members, making it the largest voluntary bar association in the state.

The group, created in 2014 by Houston mediator Andrew Tolchin, has 11 percent of the lawyers who belong to the mandatory State Bar of Texas, Texas Lawyer reports. It is larger than both the bar associations in Harris and Dallas counties.

Membership is free, but the group is open only to lawyers with a Texas bar card of license number.

Tolchin said he created the group so newer lawyers could seek advice from those who have more experience.

“Collectively, what I see in the group, I call it peer review mentorship. That’s a term of art I have created—the questions can be asked and responded to in front of everybody,” Tolchin told the Texas Lawyer. “So a question asked by one person can actually train many in real time, whether it’s from your living room or your office or wherever you happen to be at the moment.”

Texas Lawyers also appealed for volunteer lawyers to help people displaced by Hurricane Harvey.

But one lawyer who participates in the Facebook group wondered whether there is a downside. Houston appellate lawyer Scott Rothenberg wanted to know whether lawyers could use the group to help their clients without violating Texas ethics rules.

The Professional Ethics Committee for the State Bar of Texas gave him an answer in an August opinion. The committee said lawyers could use online forums to find answers to legal questions as long as they didn’t give out too much information about a client’s identity.

Rothenberg teaches continuing legal education courses on legal ethics. He added another caveat: Online advice is a good starting point, he told the Texas Lawyer. “But after looking at the answers provided over the course of two years, I would absolutely not to rely on those answers as the gospel truth all of the time,” he said.

Updated on Nov. 29 to change headline.

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