Monday Morning Answers: #119

Welcome to Monday!

Friday’s questions are here.  The answers follow today’s honor roll.

Honor Roll


Question 1

Lawyer used to represent Client.   Per the Rules of Professional Conduct, which situation is different from the others?

  • A.  Client files disciplinary complaint against Lawyer.
  • B.  Client sues Lawyer for malpractice.
  • C.  Client posts negative online review about Lawyer.
  • D.  Client files petition for post-conviction relief alleging that Lawyer failed to provide effective assistance of counsel.

Rule 1.6(c)(3) permits but does not require lawyers to disclose otherwise confidential information “to establish a claim or defense on behalf of the lawyer in a controversy between the lawyer and the client . . . [or] to respond to allegations in any proceeding concerning the lawyer’s representation of the client.” Per Comment [12], the rule can “arise in a civil, criminal, disciplinary, or other proceeding.”

A, B, and D are “controversies” or “proceedings” that trigger the rule. At the end of this post you’ll see a digest of cases & opinions that make clear that a negative online review is not a “controversy” or “proceeding” for the purposes of the rule.  

Caveat: any disclosure made pursuant to the rule should be limited to respond only to the specific controversy or allegation, and, if made in court, should include reasonable efforts to limit access to the information to people who need to know. Comment [14].

Finally, as noted by ABA Formal Opinion 10-456, a criminal defense lawyer should raise, or give the former client an opportunity to raise, all non-frivolous arguments against waiving the attorney-client privilege.

Question 2

Lawyer called me with an inquiry. I listened, then replied:  “I disagree. I wouldn’t call without permission. The rule applies to ‘matters’  Litigation doesn’t have to be pending for there to be a ‘matter.’ ”

What rule? (the topic of the rule is fine)

Communicating with a represented person.  See, Rule 4.2.

Question 3

Per the rule, an attorney shall not “prepare on behalf of a client an instrument giving the lawyer or a person related to the lawyer any substantial gift unless __________”

  • A.    The attorney or recipient is related to the client.  Rule 1.8(c)Comment [7] suggests that a non-relative cannot waive the protection of this rule.
  • B.     The client gives informed consent
  • C.     The client gives informed consent, confirmed in writing
  • D.    The client is given a reasonable opportunity to seek independent legal advice

Question 4

If you go to one of my seminars and hear me babbling about stuff that’s “onsite, online, and air-gap,” it’s most likely that I’m talking about:

  • A.  Trust accounting software
  • B.  The duty to safeguard electronically stored client information.  See: Ransomware & Cybersecurity Insurance
  • C.  Software that assists with conflict checks
  • D.  The duty of competence insofar as it relates to online legal research

Question 5

Speaking of frivolous claims . . .

Lionel Hutz is a fictional lawyer.  On behalf of a client, he sued The Frying Dutchman restaurant over its “All You Can Eat” offer.  Hutz referred to the offer as “the most blatant case of fraudulent advertising since my suit against the film The Never Ending Story.”

In another episode, the same client retains Hutz as a result of Hutz’s slogan “Cases won in 30 minutes or your pizza is free.”  Thinking he lost the case, Hutz gave the client and the client’s family a box of pizza.  The client’s wife pointed out that they won the case. Hutz responded that the pizza box was empty anyway.

How’d Hutz get a law license? I don’t know. But I do know that he claimed “I’ve attended Harvard, Yale, MIT, Oxford, the Sorbonne, and the Louvre.”

You might know the actor who voiced Hutz better for his roles on Saturday Night Liveand NewsRadio.

Name the client.

Homer Simpson

See the source image


Ransomware & Cybersecurity Insurance

As I’ve often blogged, Rules 1.1 and 1.6 require lawyers to act competently to safeguard client data.

Last month, I became aware of a law firm that was the subject of a ransomware attack. The cyber attacker blocked the firm’s access to client files and demanded a ransom.

Reminder: if a lawyer’s electronic files are compromised in a cyber attack, the question of whether the lawyer violated the Rules of Professional Conduct will likely turn on whether the lawyer took reasonable precautions to safeguard against the unauthorized access of client data.  In other words, being the victim of an attack is not, in & of itself, an ethics violation.

For example, consider two scenarios.

Scenario 1:  Lawyer operates a solo practice.  Lawyer employs a state-of-the art security system.  Nevertheless, a determined criminal uses C-4 to detonate into the office, into the safe, and then steals Lawyer’s files.

Scenario 2:  Attorney operates a solo practice.  Attorney keeps client files in an unlocked cabinet that’s on the front porch.  A lazy criminal walks up the steps, opens a drawer, and takes some of Attorney’s files.

Between the two, my guess is that a hearing panel is more likely to conclude that Lawyer is the one who took reasonable precautions against the inadvertent or unauthorized disclosure of confidential information.

In any event, on the subject of ransomware, here are few thoughts:

As always, let’s be careful out there.

Hill Street Blues




Cybersecurity Insurance

This doesn’t really involve ethics or the Rules of Professional Conduct.  However, with ethics issues related to the electronic storage & transmission of client information being such a “hot topic” lately, I thought I’d post it.

Per this article from the ABA Journal, some are of the opinion that “cybersecurity insurance” is something that lawyers & law firms “must have.”  As you know, Vermont’s rules do not require lawyers to carry liability insurance.  Still, for those of you who do, this might be of interest. And for those of you who don’t, maybe it’s food for thought.