The Florida Bar

Ethics Opinion

Opinion 20-1

October 9, 2020
Advisory ethics opinions are not binding.
A lawyer may not disclose information relating to a client’s representation in response to
a negative online review, but may respond with a general statement that the lawyer is not
permitted to respond as the lawyer would wish, but that the online review is neither fair nor

Preamble, 4-1.6(c)
Los Angeles County 525; Nassau County 2016-01; New York State 1032;
Pennsylvania 2014-200; Texas 622; West Virginia 2015-02
People v. Isaac, 470 P.3d 837 (Colo. O.P.D.J. 2016); People v. Underhill, 2015
WL 4944102 (Colo. O.P.D.J. Aug. 12, 2015); In re Skinner, 740 S.E.2d 171 (Ga.

A member of The Florida Bar has requested an advisory ethics opinion. The operative
facts as presented in the inquiring attorney’s letter are as follows:
The inquirer received a negative online review and would like to respond to the former
client’s negative review that the inquirer “took her money and ran” by using the language
suggested in Texas Ethics Opinion 662 and adding an objectively verifiable truthful statement
that the Court entered an order authorizing the inquirer to withdraw as counsel for the former
client. The inquirer believes this added language is proportional and restrained, consistent with
the Texas Ethics Opinion, directly addressed the allegations of the former client, and should be
permissible under the Rules Regulating the Florida Bar and the First Amendment.
Rule 4-1.6(c) explains when a lawyer may reveal confidential information and states:
(c) When Lawyer May Reveal Information. A lawyer may reveal
confidential information to the extent the lawyer reasonably believes necessary:
(1) to serve the client’s interest unless it is information the client specifically
requires not to be disclosed;
(2) to establish a claim or defense on behalf of the lawyer in a controversy
between the lawyer and client;
(3) to establish a defense to a criminal charge or civil claim against the
lawyer based on conduct in which the client was involved;
(4) to respond to allegations in any proceeding concerning the lawyer’s
representation of the client;
(5) to comply with the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar; or

(6) to detect and resolve conflicts of interest between lawyers in different
firms arising from the lawyer’s change of employment or from changes in the
composition or ownership of a firm, but only if the revealed information would
not compromise the attorney-client privilege or otherwise prejudice the client.
The comment to the rule explains:
A fundamental principle in the client-lawyer relationship is that, in the
absence of the client’s informed consent, the lawyer must not reveal information
relating to the representation…The confidentiality rule applies not merely to
matters communicated in confidence by the client but also to all information
relating to the representation, whatever its source. A lawyer may not disclose
confidential information except as authorized or required by the Rules Regulating
The Florida Bar or by law.
In addition, the last paragraph of the comment specifically addresses the lawyer’s duty of
confidentiality to former clients and explains that the duty of confidentiality continues after the
client-lawyer relationship has terminated.
A number of jurisdictions have looked at the issue of responding to negative online
reviews. A majority conclude that a lawyer may not disclose confidential information in
responding to online reviews. See Los Angeles County Ethics Opinion 525 (an attorney can
publicly respond to a former client’s disparaging comments only if the attorney’s response does
not disclose confidential information, the attorney does not respond in a manner that will injure
the former client in a matter involving the former representation, and the attorney’s response is
proportionate and restrained); Nassau County Ethics Opinion 2016-01 (a lawyer may not
disclose a former client’s confidential information solely to respond to criticism of the lawyer
posted on the Internet or a website by a relative of the former client or by the former client
himself); New York State Ethics Opinion 1032 (a lawyer may not disclose confidential
information just to respond to online criticism by the client on a rating site; the “self-defense”
exception to confidentiality does not apply to informal criticism where there is no actual or
threatened proceeding against the lawyer); Pennsylvania Ethics Opinion 2014-200 (a lawyer may
not give detailed response to online criticism of the lawyer by a client, may just ignore the online
criticism; the self-defense exception is not triggered by a negative online review); West Virginia
Legal Ethics Opinion 2015-02 (a lawyer may respond to positive or negative online reviews, but
may not disclose confidential client information while doing so); People v. Underhill, 2015 WL
4944102 (Colo. O.P.D.J. Aug. 12, 2015) (a lawyer was suspended 18 months for responding to
clients’ online criticism by posting confidential and sensitive information about the clients);
People v. Isaac, 470 P.3d 837 (Colo. O.P.D.J. 2016)( a lawyer was given a six-month suspension
with requirement to apply for reinstatement for responding to online reviews of former clients
when the lawyer had revealed confidential information including the criminal charges made
against clients, that client wrote a check that had bounced, and that client committed other
unrelated felonies); In re Skinner, 740 S.E.2d 171 (Ga. 2013)(the Supreme Court of Georgia
rejected a petition for voluntary discipline seeking a public reprimand for lawyer’s violation of
the confidentiality rule by disclosing confidential client information on the Internet in response
to client’s negative reviews of lawyer, citing lack of information about the violation in the

In the instant inquiry, the inquirer does not meet an exception to confidentiality under 41.6(c). Because confidentiality covers all information regarding the representation, whatever the
source, and because this duty applies to former as well as current clients, the inquirer must not
disclose confidential information without the client’s informed consent.
The preamble to Chapter 4 of the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar defines informed
consent as “the agreement by a person to a proposed course of conduct after the lawyer has
communicated adequate information and explanation about the material risks of and reasonably
available alternatives to the proposed course of conduct.”
Therefore, if the inquirer chooses to respond to the negative online review and the
inquirer does not obtain the former client’s informed consent to reveal confidential information,
the inquirer must not reveal confidential information regarding the representation, but must only
respond in a general way, such as that the inquirer disagrees with the client’s statements. The
inquirer should not disclose that the court entered an order allowing the inquirer to withdraw
because that is information relating to the client’s representation and the client did not give
informed consent for the inquirer to disclose.
The inquirer refers to Texas Ethics Opinion 622. That opinion explains that a lawyer may
not respond to client’s negative internet review if the response discloses confidential
information. The opinion gives an example of a proportional and restrained response that does
not reveal any confidential information:
A lawyer’s duty to keep client confidences has few exceptions and in an
abundance of caution I do not feel at liberty to respond in a point by point fashion
in this forum. Suffice it to say that I do not believe that the post presents a fair and
accurate picture of the events.
The suggested language found in Texas Ethics Opinion 622 would be an acceptable
response for the inquirer. The inquirer also may state that the inquirer disagrees with the facts
stated in the review in an alternative response as follows:
As an attorney, I am constrained by the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar from
responding in detail, but I will simply state that it is my belief that the
[comments/post] present neither a fair nor accurate picture of what occurred and I
believe that the [comments/post] [is/are] false.