Professionals love to publicize success stories on the web. Writing posts on recent victories is a valuable way of marketing a practice and generating new business. In the case of professionals, however, success stories often entail details regarding clients, which could raise client confidentiality concerns.
Recently, the New Jersey Office of Attorney Ethics filed a complaint against an attorney who publicized information regarding his representation of a client in a discrimination suit. The attorney wrote an article about a case in which he represented an employee against his employer. The case proceeded to a jury trial and was later settled on appeal.
The Office of Attorney Ethics filed a disciplinary action against the attorney based on critical comments that he made in the article regarding the trial judge. While the board determined that the statements regarding the judge did not criticize her in a manner that prejudiced the administration of justice, the board nevertheless concluded that the attorney committed an ethics violation by not obtaining the client’s consent before publishing the article. The board reasoned that consent was required because the article mentioned the client by name and was an impermissible disclosure. The attorney appealed the ethics decision to the State Supreme Court, which ruled that the attorney didn’t need his client’s prior consent because the information published was publicly available, and dismissed the charges.
While the New Jersey Supreme Court determined that the attorney’s conduct did not warrant disciplinary action in this particular case, professionals must act cautiously when posting information regarding representation. Disclosures of confidential information, absent client consent, could violate the rules of professional conduct and lead to costly disciplinary action.