Respect Client Confidentiality and Advertising Rules When Crafting Online Bios

Almost all attorneys have some sort of presence online, be it through professional networking sites such as LinkedIn or their law firms. Most law firms do indeed publish a bio for each attorney they employ, typically covering their education, practice areas, and any prior experience they may have.

Online bios are nothing out of the ordinary, but an attorney’s management of their bio does pose certain risks that they should be aware of.

Don’t Forget About Confidentiality

Lawyers will typically use bios as a means to showcase their successes and get the attention of potential clients. They should, however, take care to not forget their obligation to their clients’ confidentiality. Rule 1.6(a) of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct states that “a lawyer shall not reveal information relating to the representation of a client unless the client gives informed consent, the disclosure is impliedly authorized in order to carry out the representation or the disclosure is permitted by paragraph (b).” Paragraph (b) goes on to mention situations where lawyers may reveal confidential information, including to ensure a client does not commit fraud that would injure another party’s financial interests, to defend against any allegation of malpractice, to prevent “reasonably certain death or substantial bodily harm,” and more.

Lawyers will typically know to exclude confidential information from public publications and most of them ensure that unless clients have consented, there is no privileged information in their bios, especially considering Formal Opinion 480 from the ABA Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility, which notes that “[l]awyers who blog or engage in other public commentary may not reveal information relating to a representation, including information contained in a public record, unless authorized by a provision of the Model Rules.”

There are lawyers who assume that they may write freely about any representation that is a matter of public record. Relying on Formal Opinion 480, however, most of them will exclude any details or names in their bios if clients have not specifically given their consent.

Confidential information relating to past representations is also addressed in Rule 1.9(c)(2) of the Model Rules, which states that lawyers who have represented a client in the past will not “reveal information relating to the representation except as these Rules would permit or require with respect to a client.”

Most lawyers deal with these rules by either getting consent from their clients or former clients to disclose information about their cases, or simply describe the relationships and cases in such a way that they do not reveal any confidential information.

Also Consider the Rules on Advertising

A lawyer’s web bio may likely also be subject to the ethical rules regarding advertising and what they may or may not disclose to potential clients.

Rule 7.1 forbids lawyers from making “a false or misleading communication about the lawyer or the lawyer’s services.” A communication is defined as “false or misleading if it contains a material misrepresentation of fact or law, or omits a fact necessary to make the statement considered as a whole not materially misleading.” While lawyers may describe any past successes, comment [3] to Rule 7.1 states that they should ensure they avoid leading “a reasonable person to form an unjustified expectation that the same results could be obtained for other clients in similar matters without reference to the specific factual and legal circumstances of each client’s case.”

As such, lawyers will typically not include any information in their bios that may be misleading. They will often include disclaimers which state that the outcome of a case depends on the specific facts and circumstances of that case.

Using Bios as Marketing Tools

Lawyers with private practices may choose to raise awareness of their services and attract new clients through their online bios. As such, it is important that their bios accurately represent the type of work they do.

While lawyers may describe the types of cases they typically handle and the types of clients they generally represent, most of them avoid stating that they specialize in a certain area. The reason behind this is that many bar rules prohibit them from describing themselves as experts in a type of law unless they have a particularized certification. Rule 7.2(c) of the Model Rules, for example, states that lawyers shall not state or imply that they are certified specialists in a field of law unless they possess a certification issued by an appropriate organization.

Most lawyers update their online bios regularly to reflect any recent developments, as an out of date bio may not present their skills in the best light.