This week the Georgia Supreme Court ruled that a voluntary Review Panel reprimand is insufficient discipline for a lawyer who violated client confidentiality in responding to an ex-client’s derogatory comments in a consumer forum website. See In the Matter of Margaret Skinner, Georgia Supreme Court Docket No. S13Y0105.
In the decade since I began blogging here, in either the first or second lawyer blog in Georgia, lawyers participating in blogs, social media, online forums, etc., have sailed somewhat uncharted seas in relation to the Rules of Professional Conduct.
The bottom line, however, has always been that the rules that govern professional conduct offline are equally applicable online.
The privacy and informality of typing on a keyboard at night, perhaps under the influence of heated emotions, and sometimes even adult beverages, might seduce one into unguarded remarks about a an ungrateful, obnoxious idiot with unrealistic demands and expectations who was a former client.
If so, stop. Do not pass “go.” Avoid going directly to lawyer jail.
Delete. Do not press “send.”
Do not breach any client confidence even in response to the most obnoxious online misrepresentations by a former client.
Since I am currently a member of the State Bar of Georgia Disciplinary Board Review Panel, I will refrain from expressing my own opinion about how a lawyer might respond, in compliance with the Rules of Professional Conduct, to false and misleading statements published online by a disgruntled former client.
But I believe it can be done in a way that is ethical, dignified and professional, without violating any of the Rules of Professional Conduct.
Ken Shigley is immediate past president of the State Bar of Georgia. His Atlanta-based law practice is focused on representation of plaintiffs in cases of personal injury and wrongful death, especially those arising from commercial truck and bus accidents.