Legal Opinions & Ethics

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MONTH-IN-BRIEF (May 2021)

Legal Ethics

Yelp Help: Responding to Negative Online Reviews

By Keith R. Fisher

Many of us have refrained from patronizing a restaurant on the basis of one or more negative online reviews.  Admittedly, some of those might be fake (e.g., posted by a competitor) or might otherwise be unfair.  Such reviews are not, however, limited to commercial enterprises; reputations of professional service providers have also been injured in this manner. 

What if your law practice received an unfairly negative online review?  The temptation to rebut or respond is understandable, but beware — legal ethics rules prescribe restraint.

Largely tracking prior state bar ethics opinions and other advisories, ABA Formal Opinion 496 asserts that a lawyer’s ability to respond to online criticism is sharply limited by both confidentiality and prudential concerns under the Model Rules of Professional Conduct.  Model Rule 1.6’s confidentiality requirements all but preclude any response to online criticism.  Confidentiality prohibits an attorney from disclosing any confidential information about a client or former client without informed consent. 

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