North Carolina Issues Advisory Opinion On Responding to Negative Reviews

One of the more common problems lawyers face is the negative online review. (Yes, I am proud to say that I have earned the ire of two prospective clients who published reviews of me). Lawyers tend to get into trouble when they share confidential client information in response to a negative review. Like most gaffs the information is true and accurate, but it is confidential to the lawyer. Lawyers have been disciplined for disclosing confidential information in responses to online reviews.

My advice is that any negative review should receive a response such as “I respectfully disagree with this review.” The North Carolina Bar Association has issued an advisory opinion that makes a similar recommendation. The recommendation can be found here https://www.ncbar.gov/for-lawyers/ethics/proposed-opinions/

In response to the former client’s negative online review, Lawyer may post a proportional and restrained response that does not reveal any confidential information. The protection of client confidences is one of the most significant responsibilities imposed on a lawyer. Rule 1.6(a) of the Rules of Professional Conduct provides that a lawyer may not reveal information acquired during the professional relationship with a client unless (1) the client gives informed consent, (2) the disclosure is impliedly authorized, or (3) one of the exceptions set out in Rule 1.6(b) applies. Rule 1.6(a) applies to all information acquired during the representation. Under Rule 1.9(c), a lawyer is generally prohibited from using or revealing confidential information of a former client. Therefore, Lawyer may not reveal confidential information in response to the negative online review unless the former client consents or an exception set out in Rule 1.6(b) applies. See 2018 FEO 1 (lawyers are cautioned to avoid disclosing confidential client information when responding to a negative review).

Comment: when you receive a negative review you should (a) assess the situation privately; (b) determine if it is something you can control; and (c) respond in a low-key fashion. Remember that negative reviews are just part of practicing law in the digital age. Take your lumps and move on. You will be just fine.

Ed Clinton, Jr.