The Ethics Committee of North Carolina State Bar Council proposed four new ethics opinions at its first meeting of 2018. The committee will consider adopting the opinions at the next council meeting April 17-20 in Raleigh. The committee did not consider approval of any new opinions at the January meeting.
The first proposed opinion would provide guidance about attorneys’ participation in website directories and rating systems that include third-party reviews. It would clarify that attorneys may set up a profile on a service such as Google’s My Business, LinkedIn, or Avvo and provide information for inclusion in the profile, so long as the information is truthful.
Clients who are pleased with their lawyer’s services will often post reviews on the lawyer’s profile containing hyperbolic accolades saying that the lawyer was “the best” or “awesome,” or the like. The proposed opinion notes that most internet users understand that such reviews contain statements of opinion, not fact, so attorneys would not be professionally responsible for them or need to take action to have a review removed or redacted unless it contained a material misstatement of objective fact.
The second proposed opinion provides that a lawyer’s duty to disclose any controlling legal authority to a tribunal considering a legal matter, even if that authority is directly adverse to the position of the lawyer’s client, applies in lateral and lower courts, not just appellate courts.
The third proposed opinion contains a significant ruling for law firms where a member of the firm has been suspended. The opinion rules that it is false and misleading for the name of a lawyer who is under an active disciplinary suspension to remain in the firm name.
According to the opinion, the inclusion of a suspended lawyer’s name in a firm’s name materially misrepresents the lawyer’s status with the law firm and suggests to the public that the lawyer is authorized to practice law with the firm. As a result, “from the effective date of the active disciplinary suspension until the active suspension ends, the suspended lawyer’s name must be removed from the firm name, firm signage, letterhead, all forms of advertisement, and the firm website.”
The final opinion rules that a lawyer may offer clients on-site access to a financial brokerage company as a payment option for lawyer’s legal fees so long as the lawyer is satisfied that the financial arrangements offered by the company are legal, lawyer receives no consideration from company, and lawyer does not recommend one payment option over another.
The committee welcomes comments on proposed opinions, and any comments received will be considered at the April meeting.
Follow David Donovan on Twitter @NCLWDonovan