Unsolicited E-Mails: what to do with them?

Last night, I stumbled upon this post in the ABA Journal.  For those of you still wondering whether it’s safe to click on links in blog posts, I applaud your caution. However, this post isn’t a scam.  Of course, I suppose that’s what any good scammer would say.

The post is entitled “Should law firm keep secret an email request legal help? Settled case raises issue.”  Please note: the case that is the subject of the story is NOT a disciplinary case. Rather, it’s a civil suit.  Still, it raises questions related to legal ethics.  Here’s what happened:

  • KL was an investigator for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
  • KL’s girlfriend was an enforcement coordinator for the Commission.
  • KL’s girlfriend was fired.
  • In 2014, KL sent an email to Law Firm. In it, he asked about legal help for his girlfriend. The two believed she had been fired by Commission for strong stances against corporate polluters.
  • Law Firm represented corporate clients regulated by the Commission.
  • KL’s email suggested that he had information that could discredit the Commission, the same commission that had pursued enforcement actions against some of Law Firm’s corporate clients.
  • KL’s email went to a lawyer at the firm.
  • Lawyer replied that she could not represent KL and blind copied Partner.
  • Partner forwarded KL’s email to the Commission.
  • Commission fired KL.
  • KL sued Law Firm.

Per the ABA Journal, Law Firm “contended it had no duty of confidentiality to [KL] and his girlfriend, and if it did have such a duty, [Partner] was entitled to reveal the email because he believed [KL] was proposing a criminal conspiracy that could be revealed under the crime-fraud exception to attorney-client privilege.”

The suit settled.

Now, the facts surrounding KL’s email differ from the usual scenario in which a lawyer lands on the horns of a dilemma upon receiving an unsolicited e-mail requesting legal help.

Imagine this: Person sends you an unsolicited e-mail asking for legal advice related to a dispute with Employer.  The e-mail says something like this:

  • “Dear You – I heard that you’re an expert in labor law.  Well, I’m about to blow the whistle on my employer for all the illegal stuff that goes on over there.  I’d like to talk to you before I do.  One thing that worries me is that they’ll fire me. And, on that, I’ve been running a fantasy football league for the last 5 years. Each week, I spend about 8 hours of work time on the league and I use my work computer and email to send league updates.  My manager is in the league. She told me that as I long as I get all my regular work done, it’s okay to do the league stuff but still put in for 40 hours. Is she right? Or will that give them an out? Please respond so we can set up a meeting.  Thank you. Sincerely, Person.”

Turns out, Employer is a long-time client of yours.

Which is most accurate in Vermont?

  • A.  You must forward the email to Employer
  • B.  You may forward the email to Employer.
  • C.  You must not forward the email to Employer.

Stay tuned.  More tomorrow.

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