Lawyers can post 'restrained' responses to negative online reviews, proposed ethics opinion says

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Lawyers may post “a proportional and restrained” response to negative online reviews by former clients, but they can’t reveal the client’s confidential information, according to a proposed North Carolina ethics opinion.

Lawyers have until March 30 to comment on the proposed opinion by the North Carolina State Bar council, report Bloomberg Law and Law360.

The proposed opinion responds to an inquiry by a lawyer who thought online comments by a former client were false. The lawyer thought confidential information could rebut the negative allegations.

Lawyers are generally barred from revealing confidential information absent client consent, the proposed opinion notes. One exception in cases of “self-defense” does not apply to online reviews, the opinion says.

The exception allows lawyers to reveal confidential information to the extent the lawyer reasonably thinks is necessary to defend a criminal charge or civil claim based on the client’s conduct, to establish a claim or defense in a controversy between the lawyer and client, or to respond to allegations in any proceeding involving the lawyer’s representation of the client.

That “self-defense exception” applies to legal claims and disciplinary charges arising in a civil, criminal, disciplinary or other proceeding, the opinion said.

“A negative online review does not fall within these categories and, therefore, does not trigger the self-defense exception,” the opinion said.

Ethics opinions in Pennsylvania, Texas and New York have reached similar conclusions.

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