ETHICS QUESTION OF THE MONTH
This content is generated by the Texas Center for Legal Ethics and is for informational purposes only. Look for the reasoning behind the answers at legalethicstexas.com.
Yelp! I Need Somebody!
Paul is a plaintiff's personal injury lawyer in solo practice who
wants to jump-start his practice. He is aware that many clients resort
to the internet when choosing a lawyer to check their ratings by
clients. His office has a Yelp listing, but no reviews. His website has
a feature for client reviews, but none are posted.
Paul sends an email blast to all his current and former clients and generates a Facebook post soliciting help in elevating his online presence. He encourages clients to post glowing reviews of his practice on as many platforms as they can.
This mass solicitation pays off, as favorable reviews of Paul’s practice begin appearing online. Paul monitors the reviews and notices that one comment, from an early client, Sarah, appears in identical language on Yelp and on his website client reviews. It says, “Paul is a rock star! He did a great job on my small case, but I know that he has obtained million-dollar judgments for many clients.”
This gives Paul pause because he has obtained only one judgment of over $1 million. He had one other jury verdict over $1 million, but the judgment was reduced to under $1 million because of a comparative causation finding attributing 20% responsibility to the plaintiff. He also has had several settlements in the high six figures. The statement is only slightly inaccurate, and Paul no longer knows how to reach Sarah to ask her to correct it.
Consider the following possibilities:
1. Paul’s active solicitation of favorable reviews was unethical.
2. Paul is required to correct both comments because he knows they are inaccurate and convey the wrong impression to potential clients.
3. Paul is required to correct the review on his website, but not the Yelp comments.
4. Paul is required to correct the comment on Yelp, but not the review on his website.
5. Paul is not required to correct the inaccurate comments because
they are statements by a client and not by him.
According to a recent ethics opinion from the Professional Ethics Committee, which of the above statements are most accurate?
A. 2 only
B. 3 only
C. 1 and 2
D. 1 and 3
E. 1 and 4
F. 1 and 5
Opinion No. 685 (January 2020) concludes that a lawyer “may ask
current and former clients to post favorable star ratings and online
reviews about the lawyer.” However, when the lawyer becomes aware of a
favorable false or misleading statement, the lawyer must take
“reasonable steps” to correct or remove the misstatement. If the lawyer
controls the website or platform, he has an “affirmative obligation” to
remove or correct it. If he does not control it, he should “address the
matter with the author” or “consider” addressing the issue with the
website or platform administrator.
Because Paul controls his website, he is required to take corrective action. He cannot contact Sarah, and the opinion only states that he should “consider” contacting the website administrator, presumably because that task could be so cumbersome and time-consuming that it would be unduly burdensome if required. The best answer is B. For more analysis of this issue, go to legalethicstexas.com/ethics-question-of-the-month.TBJ
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The Texas Center for Legal Ethics was created by three former chief justices of the Supreme Court of Texas to educate lawyers about ethics and professionalism. Lawyers can access the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct, the Texas Lawyer’s Creed, and a variety of other online ethics resources by computer or smart device at legalethicstexas.com.
The information contained in Ethics Question of the Month is intended to illustrate an ethics issue of general interest in the Texas legal community; it is not intended to provide ethics advice that applies regardless of particular facts. For specific legal ethics advice, readers are urged to consult the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct (including the official comments) and other authorities and/or a qualified legal ethics adviser.