These summaries were prepared by McGuireWoods LLP lawyer Thomas E. Spahn. They are based on the letter opinions issued by the Virginia State Bar. Any editorial comments reflect Mr. Spahn's current personal views, and not the opinions of the Virginia State Bar, McGuireWoods or its clients. 
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16-Lawyer's Personal Interests

31-Protecting and Disclosing Confidences and Secrets

46-Confidentiality - Miscellaneous

Lawyers tempted to respond to “online criticism and negative reviews” must remember their confidentiality duty – which even covers “information in the public record.” The only likely applicable exception in ABA Model Rule 1.6 (b)(5) applies “in a controversy between the lawyer and the client.” Even if “an online posting rose to the level of a controversy between lawyer and the client, a public response is not reasonably necessary or order for the lawyer to establish a claim or defense.” Lawyers may: (1) “request that the host of the website or search engine remove the post” (without revealing any protective client confidential information, but “staging] that the post is not accurate or that the lawyer has not represented the poster if that is the case”); (2) “give serious consideration to not responding to negative online reviews” to avoid generating more online activity that might increase search result visibility; (2) “respond with a request to take the conversation offline and to attempt to satisfy the person;” (3) post a disclaimer of representation if the poster is not a client or former client; (4) be careful not to disclose client confidences if the poster has a relationship to the representation, remembering that “[e]ven a general disclaimer that the events are not accurately portrayed may reveal that the lawyer was involved in the events mentioned, which could disclose confidential client information,” (5) respond to a negative post as follows: “[p]rofessional obligations do not allow me to respond as I would wish.”

Copyright 2000, Thomas E. Spahn