“It’s Groundhog Day… again.”

This past week included one of our nation’s most heralded fake holidays. Groundhog’s Day. Silly occasion, but still a really good movie, of course. But, playing off of the theme of repeating events and disappointing outcomes, we return to the oft-discussed topic of lawyers trying to respond to online criticism.

We’ve covered in the past in these parts that the current version of the ethics rules, in any jurisdiction using the ABA Model approach to RPC 1.6, prohibits lawyers from responding to online criticism posted by clients or former clients, even if the criticism is off base. We’ve also talked about the fact that if the criticism comes from someone who wasn’t actually a client, then the ethics rules do not prohibit a lawyer from going online to respond. We’ve also talked about how if the person is a client or former client and they lie about you online, that you could try to sue them for defamation. As to all of those approaches, we’ve also stressed that there are practical problems with doing some of the things that you could do, including The Streisand Effect.

What we’ve never directly addressed is the “could” or “should” of deciding to respond to online criticism from someone who was never a client or nonclient by deciding to file a lawsuit for defamation. This was an approach that an Illinois lawyer tried but was unsuccessful at the trial court level, having the claims dismissed as not actionable. Within the past week or so, the Seventh Circuit has now affirmed that dismissal. You can read the ABA Journal article about the ruling here. If you have more time to delve into the matter, you can read the full Seventh Circuit opinion here.

Interestingly, the underlying story is both one of a pretty unsympathetic character (the lawyer) and a story in which the lawyer stepped into puddles of his own making both in how he responded to initial online criticism and then in attempting to turn his situation into a federal case.

This lawyer’s tale of Internet woe starts, as many do, with a round of activity on Facebook. In response to the tantalizing “What’s on your mind, David?” that Facebook lays out to prompt users to post, this lawyer wrote: “Did Trump put Ukraine on the travel ban list?! We just cannot find a cleaning lady!” This initial statement was met with a good amount of negative feedback and criticism but limited to comments and replies in the Facebook thread itself.

The lawyer, however, proceeded to — in the words of the Seventh Circuit “double down” by responding in his comments thread with:

My business with Ukrainians will be done when they stop declaring bankruptcies. If this offends
your national pride, I suggest you look for underlying causes of why 9 out of 10 cleaning ladies we’ve had were Ukrainian and 9 out of 10 of my law school professors were not. Until then, if you don’t have a recommendation for a cleaning lady, feel free to take your comments somewhere else.

Now, the problems with this approach are varied, but they include the invitation to folks to branch out with where they provided their feedback. And branch out they did. The lawsuit explains that the people he offended with his anti-Ukrainian sentiments proceeded to the lawyer’s law firm Facebook page, his Google listing, and to Yelp to offer their opinions. The various statements ran the gamut from just 1-star reviews without comment, comments about the lawyer generally as a person, and some comments that negatively characterized his ability to be a lawyer since he was seen as being inappropriately prejudiced.

The lawyer filed a lawsuit in federal court for defamation against these posters and claiming a civil conspiracy. The opinion lays out examples of posts of the vaguer variety and those of a more specific variety, but, importantly, it does not appear that anyone he sued posted a statement that was clearly capable of being read as falsely indicating that the person had ever hired the lawyer and was commenting about something specific. Just about the closest any statements came to that was someone posting a 1-star review with the only feedback indicated being “awful customer service.” The courts at both levels were entirely unconvinced that anything that written online was something other than an unactionable expression of opinion.

Perhaps, best summarized in terms of the view of that particular court, and as food for thought for attorneys anytime they contemplate suing in similar circumstances, is this excerpt:

More fundamental, we must consider the particular social context of these online reviews and what it may signal about their contents. The defendants posted their reviews on Freydin’s Law Office’s Facebook, Yelp, and Google pages, which invite unfiltered comments. We trust that readers of online reviews are skeptical about what they read, both positive and negative. But it is enough in this case that these short reviews did not purport to provide any factual foundation and were clearly meant to express the opinions of the defendants in response to Freydin’s insults to Ukrainians generally.

Illinois, apparently, does not have any anti-SLAPP mechanism’s, or, if it does, they were not taken advantage of here, but in any state that does, this kind of lawsuit by a lawyer would likely face that additional hurdle as well.

This for Thursday.

Originally, I had plans to do another of those three-in-one posts for today, but we have some news from Tennessee, so we are pivoting to just focus on that development.

I’ve written previously about the Court’s proposal to improve upon the approach to intermediary organizations in Tennessee. Well, yesterday, the Court entered an order adopting those proposed rule revisions effective January 1, 2022.

This means that, starting next year, this better, but not perfect, approach to addressing entities that offer “matching” and similar services between lawyers and consumers of legal services will come into existence.

No longer will such entities have to register in any fashion with the Board of Professional Responsibility because Tenn. Sup. Ct. R. 44 is being deleted. As a result, it will no longer be inherently unethical for a lawyer to accept fees from a client who found their way to the lawyer through an unregistered service.

Instead, whether it is ethical for a lawyer to do business with such an entity will turn significantly more on how transparent the arrangements are and the lawyer will be charged with doing the due diligence about any such entity.

Now, I mention that the new rules approach isn’t perfect — because it is not — but also as a way of justifying highlighting what I anticipate will remain as the “thorniest” issues for lawyers who want to work with such entities.

First, what will we mean when we say, “such entities?” As revised, Tennessee’s RPC 7.6 will apply to lawyer-advertising cooperatives, lawyer referral services, lawyer matching services, online marketing platforms, prepaid legal insurance providers, and “other similar organization[s] that engage[] in referring consumers of legal services to lawyers or facilitating the creation of lawyer-client relationships between consumers of legal services and lawyers willing to provide assistance for which the organization does not bear ultimate responsibility.”

Now, this still has a “catch all” concept, but it might be “better” than the previous catch all in terms of likely to snag fewer companies in its net. Regardless though, it constitutes an improvement in terms of the perspective of both lawyers and consumers, as well as servicer providers, because even if swept into the net, these entities will not have to go through any registration process with the Board.

Second, what will be the easy issues for lawyers to navigate. I think that it will be pretty easy for a lawyer to know whether the organization is trying to direct or regulate the lawyer’s professional judgment, and whether the organization is owned or controlled by the lawyer or their law firm. It will also be easy, perhaps not as easy, but still easy for the lawyer to ensure that the function of the referral arrangement is fully disclosed to the client at the beginning of the interactions with the lawyer and whether the organization “makes the criteria for inclusion available to prospective clients” including payments and fees at the beginning of the client’s interactions with the organization.

Finally, the sticking points. What will be significantly more difficult for the lawyer to determine will be whether the organization, including its agents or employees, are doing anything that involves improper solicitation under RPC 7.3 in Tennessee and whether the organization is only requiring the lawyer to pay “a reasonable sum representing a proportional share of the organization’s administrative and advertising costs.”

And, candidly, this last piece is where the need for further reform exists — it shouldn’t matter what the organization and the lawyer agree is going to be paid in terms of compensation as long as that deal is made fully transparent to the client.

Until then, this rule also at least provides some further protection for lawyers if they end up struggling with being able to figure out these two tougher sticking points because if they discover a problem after they get involved, they don’t have to immediately stop participating. Instead, they can first seek to get the organization to correct the noncompliance. Only if they cannot convince the entity to correct things do they have to withdraw from participation. Importantly, withdrawal from participation in the arrangement is what is required and not withdrawal from representing any client that may have found their way to the lawyer through the program.

Florida again. Sigh.

It has only been a little over a month at this point since I wrote about how Florida was a hopeless place.

Well, here we are again. The Florida Bar Board of Governors has unanimously rejected a few proposals aimed toward progress in the re-regulation of the practice of law in the last week or so. Now, I want to be realistic in both my outrage and disappointment.

So, let’s talk first about the much less surprising piece of this development because it is just Florida rejecting something that, to date, most every state has rejected and only two states and the District of Columbia have been willing to consider or enact.

The Florida Bar Board of Governors rejected a proposal that had been submitted to it by a Special Committee to Improve the Delivery of Legal Services established by the Florida Supreme Court. That proposal would have involved amending Florida’s ethics rules to allow some nonlawyer ownership in law firms as long as the majority ownership interest was still in the hands of lawyers and to allow fee-sharing to occur between lawyers and nonlawyers. The proposal involved the notion of giving these kinds of items a try in a regulatory sandbox approach rather than simply throwing doors open wide.

Given that, to date, only Arizona and Utah have joined D.C. in allowing for people without law licenses to have an ownership interest in a law firm, the fact that the Florida Bar rejected this proposal is really not surprising. It is maybe a little bit surprising that the vote was 46-0 and 45-0, but ….

Now, the other aspect of the Special Committee’s suggestions that was rejected at the same time really is a cause for outrage and disappointment. These suggested revisions targeted Florida’s regime for regulating lawyer advertising.

Florida has long been an embarrassment to the profession when it comes to its approach to restricting advertising by lawyers. And while reasonable lawyers can disagree about whether revisions to ownership regimes and fee-sharing are an inherently good direction for the profession to pursue, the notion that Florida can continue to insist that it’s approach to lawyer advertising makes sense is beyond the pale at this point.

The Special Committee had suggested revisions to the Florida advertising rules that were intended to streamline the rules — in large part this was proposed to be done by moving some of the more detailed rules into comments — if this sounds familiar to readers of this blog that would be because it should be. This kind of revision was recently enacted in Tennessee, and the Tennessee endeavor was inspired by the same things that inspired the proposal of the Florida Special Committee, the work of APRL in encouraging these kinds of revisions and the adoption by the ABA of more streamline advertising rules. The Florida Special Committee also proposed ending Florida’s mandatory review process of lawyer advertisements that offer more than just basic information or are not law firm websites.

The notion that a prominent member of the Florida Bar Board of Governors could explain opposition to such proposals by saying:

“While well intentioned, I think both of them are ahead of their time,” Sellers said.

That is the stuff of farce if not outright gaslighting. Ahead of their time? I guess if Florida wants to insist that it is the 1990s down there in terms of the refusal to streamline, and I guess the 1970s down there in refusing to stop imposing a prior restraint on constitutional speech, then, sure.

The notion that the vote on that was also unanimous (43-0) is extremely unsettling.

To be clear about what we are talking about when we talk about Florida’s advertising rules, these are rules that still, in 2021, have an entire separate rule prohibiting certain forms of advertisements as being somehow “unduly manipulative” because they contain the image or a voice of a celebrity. This is a state that has rule that also makes it improper to advertise using “an image, sound, video or dramatization in a manner that is designed to solicit legal employment by appealing to a prospective client’s emotions rather than to a rational evaluation of a lawyer’s suitability to represent the prospective client.” This is a state that still has an entire separate rule that purports to tell lawyers what content for their advertisement will be “presumptively valid content.”

All of that is bad enough, but the notion that Florida still imposes a pre-publication review requirement for commercial speech — a concept that is anathema to any reasonable understanding of the First Amendment — and that its governing body of lawyers just reaffirmed unanimously that this should continue is just … sad.

Following up despite it not being Friday – Tennessee advertising changes

So, sort of as promised, or at least in substantial compliance with a prior promise, I wanted to elaborate a bit more on the news out of Tennessee that we have adopted revisions to our lawyer advertising rules and talk a bit about what is now a new, pending proposal put out directly by the Tennessee Supreme Court.

As to the changes that were adopted, I scooped my own blog by articulating most of those more detailed thoughts in this piece for Bloomberg Law put together by Melissa Heelan.

The one topic I didn’t really mention in that interaction was the fact that the revisions also create a new exception to allow in-person solicitation directed at “a person who routinely uses for business purposes the type of legal services offered by the lawyer.” This is a category slightly different than what the TBA had proposed to the Court but still an improvement on the existing rule.

As to the Court’s new, separate proposal for how to revise Tennessee’s treatment of “intermediary organizations,” the TBA had proposed a “surgical” revision that simply would have removed a “catch all” category from how the concept of an “intermediary organization” is defined. The TBA did not seek to propose any changes to any other aspect of the regulatory structure that requires such organizations to register with the Court.

The Court now has. It has proposed for public comment a revision that would delete Tenn. Sup. Ct. R. 44 in its entirety and that would make some significant revisions to RPC 7.6 itself but that would still leave something of a “catch all” in the definition, though not as broad as the current rule and a few other revisions to the ethics rule portions. Importantly, because the proposal removes the requirements of registration and some other obstacles, what it leaves is a rule that largely places the burden on individual lawyers to make certain they are only doing business with entities that conduct themselves in a fashion that is consistent with the lawyer’s own ethical obligations. The proposed revised rule also requires transparency from the intermediary organization in terms of the furnishing of information to those who might use its services to find a lawyer. Speaking of transparency, the proposal is transparently inspired by a similar proposal recently adopted in North Carolina. You can read the full court proposal at the link below.

Given the removal of the more onerous requirements of Rule 44, this proposal seems worthy of public support as it would seem to make it much more likely that entities that can offer “matching” services that Tennessee lawyers and consumers of legal services alike are interested in using will do so in an open, above-board fashion.

In sum, the proposed revised version of RPC 7.6, paired with the deletion of Rule 44, would appear to be a rule more likely to be complied with rather than ignored.

If you are interested in submitting any public comment to the Court, you have until November 30, 2021 to do so.

TN Adopts Revisions to Lawyer Advertising Rules

This site has not historically been a “breaking” news sort of site. Today will be an exception with very pithy editorial content.

I am very happy to report that the Tennessee Supreme Court today adopted proposed revisions to the lawyer advertising rules which I have written about in the past. You can download today’s order at the link below.

The Court did not adopt the proposal that had been made for revising our rule on lawyer intermediary services but did put out a separate order proposing different revisions. I will write more about that, and discuss these changes a bit more, later this week.

10 Things I Thought I Would Write About This July, But Didn’t.

So, anyone I might have hooked into caring about this site in May and June 2021 likely stopped checking for July content 1 or 2 weeks ago. Longer-term, repeatedly neglected, readers are likely still hanging in there (and forever earning my esteem).

There have been a bunch of times that I thought I was going to bust something out on here this month, but life, and work, and doom-scrolling, and an honest-to-goodness vacation have gotten in the way. On the doom-scrolling front, we’re back to having to do a bunch of that because the people out there with access to the vaccine but who are refusing to take it are really doing all they can to ruin this for everyone else. In states like Tennessee, the problematic Republicans that run things are actively trying to stop young teenagers from getting this vaccine by going so far as to try to stop the dissemination of information to teenagers about any vaccines of any sort. Sigh.

So, this won’t quite make up for the dry spell, but here are quick entries on the 10 things I thought I would write about this July, but didn’t.

(1) The Florida Supreme Court earlier this year did some rule-making that has resulted in Florida lawyers being unable to get CLE credit for any CLE sponsored by the ABA. Sounds absurd, right? It is. I am very proud to say that, among the many public comments filed by lawyers and groups of lawyers attempting to explain to the Florida Supreme Court why it should rescind its new rule, is one from the Association of Professional Responsibility Lawyers. . You can read that comment here. If you are interested in reading all of the comments – which are overwhelmingly opposed to the Court’s actions, you can get access to them here.

(2) Speaking of Florida, backwards as it can be in a number of respects (looking mostly at you Governor DeSantis), it has dipped its toe in the water of joining the ranks of Utah and Arizona in potentially bringing about drastic change in the legal landscape by allowing for nonlawyer ownership of providers of legal services to operate through a “sandbox” approach. You can read more here.

(3) Speaking of Utah and Arizona, we have statistics about the kinds of entities that have been approved in those states for performing legal services either through Utah’s sandbox or just generally in Arizona. A very good article providing an overview of the happenings in those two states can be found here.

(4) Staying out West, but angling a bit northward, the Oregon Supreme Court has issued a good new opinion on whether a lawyer can rely upon RPC 1.6 to attempt to disclose client confidential information to respond to online criticism. Spoiler alert: still a no-no.

(5) One of the things that we’ve discussed here before that a lawyer can do in response to unfair online criticism is to file a lawsuit about it. I’ve pretty steadfastly made the point that doing so likely will only make things worse. Speaking of making things worse by filing a lawsuit because you are mad about how you are being treated online, the twice-impeached former President of the United States filed a class action lawsuit against each of Facebook and Twitter claiming that their decision to ban him from their platforms was unconstitutional. Remarkably, Trump found even more lawyers to be willing to debase themselves and threaten any reputation that might have otherwise established to make highly frivolous arguments in a lawsuit – this time trying to argue that Facebook and Twitter are essentially the government and should have to comply with the First Amendment.

(6) Speaking of lawyers debasing themselves for Donald Trump of all people (and that’s still at many times the most staggering part of all of this, him? This is the guy that so many people are so willing to burn it all down for?), a raft full of lawyers involved in the “Kraken” lawsuits in Michigan had their sanctions evidentiary hearing and, based on all the reports you can go read, it went about as well for them as everything else has gone in the Kraken lawsuit. Then, of all things, one of the most prominent of the lawyers in the cross-hairs went and posted a portion of the video pf the proceedings in violation of the court’s explicit order not to do so. This has led to a follow-up show cause order regarding contempt. Most recently, the judge issued an order declining to find contempt but asking for an explanation for why discipline should not be imposed. I’ve written in the past about why we shouldn’t just be okay with the notion that courts are saying these public proceedings cannot be taped and re-broadcast but there’s a time and a place for most things. When you are already staring down the barrel of the kind of sanctions these lawyers might get, that certainly wasn’t the time.

(7) Sticking to stories with a political twist, President Biden has signed an omnibus Executive Order that attempts to do an awful lot of things.. One of the things it does is impose some prohibitions on requiring employees to sign non-compete agreements. I was among several lawyers quoted in a Law360 Pulse story about how that portion of the EO could impact the legal profession. Here is a link to the article itself, but you have to be a subscriber to see it. For the rest of you, I’ll just say that, for my part, I said the following:

The direct and immediate impact seems to be minimal because, as you already know, lawyers are ethically restricted from agreeing to noncompetes, and even prohibited from trying to ask a lawyer-hire to agree to them.

When President Biden says something like “the era of it being difficult for someone licensed to do something in one state to get a license in another state needs to come to an end,” why shouldn’t that apply to lawyers too? There are significant discussions going on in the profession about how to better connect willing lawyers and interested potential clients when consumers are going unrepresented and lawyers are out there who don’t have enough work.

(8) A month or two ago, I wrote a bit on how New York and D.C. were putting out some proposed revised approaches to a rule that would help address harassment and discrimination by lawyers, but that are trying to be designed to avoid the “alleged” problems of ABA Model Rule 8.4(g). I neglected at the time to say anything about the fact that Connecticut was working on something in that regard as well. In June 2021, the Connecticut Supreme Court has adopted the proposed revision, and a new Rule 8.4(7) will go into effect in the Nutmeg State on January 1, 2022. You can check out the full language of the rule here.

(9) Big news was made recently in Texas with a decision from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals finding that mandatory bar membership in Texas was unconstitutional, in the current form of the Texas Bar, because of how the Texas Bar uses some of the dues of members to undertake political activity. I’ve written a few times over the years about the important distinctions that exist between states with unified bars, where membership is mandatory, and states where the bar association is just a voluntary membership organization. More recently, the Sixth Circuit wasn’t as friendly to an Ohio lawyer’s attempt to challenge mandatory membership in the Ohio bar. An ultimate ruling on the issue from the U.S. Supreme Court seems inevitable at this point. Given the current make-up of the Court, the era of mandatory bar associations is likely coming to an end.

(10) Remember three paragraphs ago when I said there was a time and a place for most things? When it comes to lawyers and using marijuana, the New York State Bar Association has released a new opinion that says the time is now and the place is New York.

So, those were 10 things I thought I was going to write about in July but I didn’t. Or did I?

(N.B. I will return before the month ends, and I will write a little bit more about that last item.)

What decade is it again?

So, the experience of the last year of pandemic life has messed with a lot of people’s ability to remember when certain things happened. For some people, remembering events of the last year are not the problem as much as remembering when certain things happened in the before times. For others, short term memory of events has been impacted a bit in a way that is more akin to briefly failing to grasp what day of the week it is when everything seems like the same day.

The nostalgia-based wave of reboots/updates/re-releases of older content isn’t exactly helping with the feeling of temporal displacement. A Frasier reboot is apparently now in the works. Saved by the Bell has been relaunched and out there on streaming services for months now. A new version of Walker Texas Ranger has given one of the actors from Supernatural something to do. Punky Brewster is apparently back but now my age, and indications are that Dexter and even The Fresh Prince of Bel Air are going to be freshened up and back on our television screens.

So, for someone who already refuses to believe that the 90s were 30 years ago, bringing back all of the 90s entertainment can make for further confusion.

A quick look this week at legal news didn’t exactly help with temporal awareness:

Florida lawyer faces ethics complaint over pit bull ads.

Seriously, are we doing this again too? My immediate recollection was that Florida went after a lawyer for a similar ad in the 90s, but the article confirms that the decision that came down and was subject to discussion was actually in 2005.

Florida’s prior effort to punish a lawyer for colorful advertising was wrong then, and, if it actually leads to some form of discipline in 2021, it would be even more wrong now.

The Florida opinion referenced in the article which imposed discipline on an attorney named (of all the 90s things) Chandler didn’t turn on the idea that using an image of a pit bull in an advertisement or trying to self-proclaim a pit bull as a moniker was misleading, but instead scolded on the basis of the idea that the pit bull references in marketing was not the kind of speech that would help consumers make an informed decision about how to choose a lawyer.

One would have hoped in the intervening 15 or so years that regulators in our profession have had plenty of time to recognize that the commercial speech of lawyers in marketing their services shouldn’t be regulated on the basis of taste or regulators’ subjective views on what is or isn’t appropriate but instead should only be pursued if the communications are actually false and misleading to the consumer.

Kudos to my APRL colleague Brian Tannebaum for trying to be the voice of reason in the above-referenced ABA Journal online article.

Also though, given the passage of time and the fact that there is much more to the story of pit bulls in the nature versus nurture realm and whether they have been unfairly given a reputation for being a certain type of animal, how about lawyers do a bit better in also recognizing what decade this is? I too wouldn’t ever choose that approach to advertising, but, at this point, why not explore the Cerberus instead of a pit bull?

ABA SCEPR Increases Lifetime Batting Average.

Look at me with the super seasonally timely sports reference. Baseball. In January.

I have written on quite a few occasions in the past about the perils for lawyers in responding to criticism posted about them online. Well, the ABA has issued its latest ethics opinion to address the same topic. Behold ABA Formal Ethics Opinion 496 396 – Responding to Online Criticism.

Let’s have a double-header of untimely cultural references.

Issued January 13, 2021, ABA Formal Ethics Opinion 496 is the hottest ABA ethics opinion regarding online criticism ever.

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This opinion has everything. Sound rule interpretation. Meaty footnotes chock-full of research material for disciplinary cases and state ethics opinions. Acknowledgement of the important role that Barbara Streisand plays on this topic. Good practical guidance for what a lawyer might do.

Seriously, go read it.

The only quibble I have with it is its initial conclusion that online criticism alone from a client does not qualify as a “controversy” under Model Rule 1.6(b)(5). I think that is wrong, but the opinion goes on to even make my quibble pointless because they acknowledge that even if they are wrong about that, the lawyer wouldn’t need to respond online in kind to “establish a claim or defense on behalf of the lawyer” with respect to the controversy. I’d prefer that the opinion just rely upon that point rather than arguing that an online dust-up could not constitute a controversy.

To me, the point that is unassailable is that whether or not it is a “controversy” isn’t dispositive, the issue is whether an online response would be necessary to establish a claim or defense. Given how the internet works currently, the answer to that question with respect to the Model Rule, and any state that has adopted the same language, is obviously “no.”

You can access the full opinion here.

(Edited to fix my embarrassing mistake on the opinion number.)

Three short burst updates

In case you haven’t yet “checked out” for the week to have what I hope is a makeshift, stay-at-home Thanksgiving banquet to kick-off your holiday weekend, here are four very short but, mostly timely, updates on topics of prior posts.

First, the Tennessee Supreme Court has put the TBA advertising rule revisions proposal out for public comment. You can access the order here. The deadline for public comments is March 12, 2021, so you can anticipate that if these revisions are adopted, they likely will not be going into effect prior to May or, more likely, June 2021 at the earliest.

Second, despite the fact that most if not all of the “battleground” states have certified their results, the outgoing, impeached, one-term President’s lawyers do not seem to be relenting on their insistence on court filings and out-of-court false statements. The ongoing behavior has spurred quite a few prominent voices in legal ethics to speak out on the issues, but that there appear to be clear violations and also the reasons that there will quite likely never be any discipline imposed. You can read a couple of different articles surveying the landscape here, and here. Also, as a slightly more direct follow up to my post from late last week, you can read this article from Reuters that includes some interactions with yours truly.

Third, and technically not what would typically qualify as an “update,” nor possibly even a “short burst,” lawyers continue to have difficulty navigating protecting client confidences when seeking to withdraw from representations. I haven’t written about any instances of lawyers getting disciplined for such missteps in a long time, but there now is an extremely recent example of a lawyer being publicly censured for exactly that, and it arises from my home state. You can read the press release about the public censure here.

The press release, unsurprisingly, does not contain much in the way of details beyond indicating that the problematic conduct was “negligently disclosing confidential client information in an affidavit filed with [a] Motion to Withdraw from representation.” In fact, it would be horrible if too many details were included in such a press release when the underlying problem was the lawyer disclosing too much information in connection with seeking withdrawal.

What is a little surprising is that this discipline came about only have a full trial before a hearing panel. If you’d really like to know more of the full story, you can read the Hearing Panel judgment after the trial at the link below. (Bad link replaced with PDF download.)

For those readers who may be thinking to themselves, sure but I would never make that kind of error, the lawyer in question has been licensed in Tennessee for nearly 50 years. So maybe you shouldn’t be so confident?

But, for the benefit of those same readers, the lawyer in question also made clear in his efforts to defend himself in the proceedings (a fact that likely explains the need for the trial) that he did not comprehend (even after 50 years of practice) that the ethics rules impose an obligation of confidentiality that is much broader than the attorney-client privilege.

So, maybe you can be confident?

Increasing access to information about legal services – TN Edition

This will be a mostly short entry for this week because the most important item to put into your reading pile is what I’m writing about rather than the post itself. (Admittedly, I’m certain many of you are thinking … “well, that’s kind of always true Einstein.”)

I have written over the years here about a number of cutting-edge undertakings occurring in various states to try to address re-regulating the practice of law. I will not repeat that content here, but I will confess that I’ve fallen behind as there are some that have happened that have avoided my attention.

Many of those endeavors involve changes to the rules on legal advertising as a secondary-level improvement to other, bolder regulatory reforms. Here in Tennessee I don’t think we are very close to launching any sort of task force aimed at re-regulating the practice of law in the immediate future, but I am pleased to report that the wheels are beginning to turn on the topic of seeking reform of the rules on lawyer advertising.

Earlier this week, the Tennessee Bar Association filed a petition with the Tennessee Supreme Court asking it to adopt proposed revisions to the current ethics rules in Tennessee located at RPCs 7.1 through 7.6.

As the petition indicates, the rules revision proposal involves a blend of what APRL proposed back in 2015 and 2016 and what the ABA ultimately adopted as revisions to the Model Rules in 2018 regarding advertising matters. Like those reforms, the TBA petition would delete three rule provisions (RPC 7.2, 7.4., and 7.5) and move remaining comment guidance from those rules into the Comment to RPC 7.1. Tennessee would retain an RPC 7.3 addressing solicitation and some other issues.

The TBA also retains some existing Tennessee-specific approaches to issues, but, on the whole, the revisions would be significant progress toward two goals as explained in the petition itself:

(1) winnowing down restrictions imposed on lawyer advertising to the core requirement that lawyers not make false or misleading statements about themselves or their services, and (2) removing restrictions on communications by lawyers where the types of communications now barred are not likely to cause consumer harm.

As the petition was only filed this week, the Court has not taken any action on it such as putting it out for public comment.

Because I know a guy, if you’d like to read the petition and review its proposed changes, you can download those documents at the links below.