I am preparing to present an ethics-related continuing legal education (CLE) course with Washington State Bar Association (WSBA) Professional Responsibility Counsel Jeanne Marie Clavere on Social Media & Your Law Practice, as part of The Washington Law and Practice Refresher. There’s a lot to say.
In particular, in my research I noted an interesting 2019 article by Karen Rubin entitled, “Facebook posts that revealed client info bring public reprimand for MA lawyer.” The article describes how a Massachusetts lawyer was publicly reprimanded for revealing confidential information about one of his guardianship cases on a social media website. The article recounts:
After representing his client at a hearing in juvenile court, the lawyer (a member of the bar since 1977) posted on his personal Facebook page, which was public and had no privacy setting: I am back in the Boston office appearing in Berkshire Juvenile Court in Pittsfield on behalf of a grandmother who was seeking guardianship of her six year old grandson and was opposed by DCF [i.e., Department of Children and Families] yesterday. Next date – 10/23.
After posting this information, several people, both lawyers and non-lawyers, responded and asked various questions about the case. The lawyer answered all questions, revealing further information about the case.
The client’s daughter discovered the post and informed her mother. The client then complained to disciplinary authorities. The lawyer’s response to the allegation that he violated the ethical rules by revealing his client’s confidential information was “that the only people who would have recognized the case from the information provided were the parties themselves.” The disciplinary Board disagreed, stating, “There is no requirement that a third party actually connect the dots.”
How would you feel if your lawyer posted on social media about you and your case? I’ve been a client, and I can tell you I would not like that one bit. However, unfortunately, I’ve seen these types of posts on social media time and time again – both on lawyers’ personal social media as well as in various social media groups for attorneys. Washington Rule of Professional Conduct 1.6(a) states, very clearly, “A lawyer shall not reveal information relating to the representation of a client.” There are some limited exceptions to this rule, but social media posts are most certainly not listed among them.
Next time you see an attorney post information about their clients and their cases online, please be mindful that this may not be appropriate or ethical behavior. As a client, you shouldn’t have to wonder if your lawyer is discussing your file on Facebook or Twitter.
This post is for informational purposes and does not contain or convey legal advice. The information herein should not be used or relied upon in regard to any particular facts or circumstances without first consulting with an attorney.