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Login | July 14, 2024

ABA Formal Opinion: Don’t ask listservs for advice

RICHARD WEINER
Technology for Lawyers

Published: July 5, 2024

Well, now we’re here. ABA Formal Opinion 511, promulgated on May 8, 2024, admonishes attorneys not to go to listservs for client-related legal advice.
That’s right. The ABA says: Don’t believe people on the internet. But, if you choose to believe people on the internet, at least don’t give them confidential client information, please.
The 12-page opinion, with 15 footnotes, references Rule 1.6 to make clear that lawyers should not put information on a listserv legal discussion group chat that might in any way expose their client to any breach of confidentiality or data privacy.
The opinion opines that lawyer discussion groups can be good for general information, but that a discussion of the particulars of a case, especially without the client’s informed consent, could come too close to exposing confidential client information.
The opinion’s extensive footnotes refer to previous formal opinions of bars in Maryland and Oregon on the topic.
The opinion states that these discussion forums may contain valuable information, and give legal professionals the opportunity to discuss various issues with their peers, including legal trends, general legal topics, and so forth.
However, discussing pending legal matters is another, well, matter.
Topics involving live cases, or potential cases, and especially pending legal matters, should not be discussed online in any way to avoid inadvertent mentions of confidential client data. In fact, the opinion goes as far as to state that seeking advice in a group chat in any way that might compromise client confidentiality is unethical ab initio.
The opinion states that the way to get legal advice from a lawyer is to ask an actual lawyer, live and in person. Because of course, every attorney, especially those who are just starting out, will ask professionals about points of practice.
And really—who on earth would even ask some person posting on a listserv an actual legal question, much less one that is specific enough to pinpoint a specific legal action?
Who posts on these things?
And, more to the point, who lurks on these things, looking for info to sell?
So, in keeping attorneys off of listservs, the ABA is once again emphasizing that most of the internet is BS. And that’s right.
You can read the entire fformal opinion here: https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/professional_responsibility/ethics-opinions/aba-formal-opinion-511.pdf


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