Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the proposed revisions to the Comment to Florida Bar Rule 4-7.18 which would permit the exchange of contact information at business events and on business-related social media, with caveats. The proposed revised language is on the agenda for review and final approval by the Florida Bar’s Board of Governors (BOG) at its meeting on January 31, 2020 in Tallahassee.
The BOG’s Professional Ethics Committee proposed additional language in the Comment to Bar Rule 4-7.18, Direct Contact With Prospective Clients which would specifically permit the exchange of contact information at business events and on business-related social media. The proposed Comment language also cautions that lawyers should not discuss a specific legal matter if the prospective client initiates it, “and defer further discussion to a more appropriate location” if the discussion would “endanger” a prospective client’s confidentiality.
According to the BOG meeting agenda, the justification for the amendment is that “(t)he proposed commentary recognizes that lawyers frequently exchange contact information at business-related events and on business-related social media platforms. These events are usually at least in part to facilitate networking, the initiation of the exchange of contacted information is expected at these events, the lawyer normally would not know the prospective client has the need for specific legal services, and the prospective client would normally be a sophisticated user of legal services and less likely to be unduly influenced by the request.”
The complete proposed Comment language is below:
A lawyer may initiate the routine mutual exchange of contact information with prospective clients who are attending the same business or professional conference or meeting or business-related social gathering if the lawyer initiates no further discussion of a specific legal matter. Similarly, a lawyer may initiate the exchange of contact information and profiles via a specific social media platform that is established for the purpose of businesses and professionals exchanging this type of information if the lawyer initiates no discussion of specific legal matters. If a prospective client then initiates discussion of a specific legal matter, the lawyer should decline to discuss the matter at the initial contact and defer further discussion to a more appropriate location when the discussion would endanger a prospective client’s confidentiality. Lawyers should not interpret the above to allow a lawyer who knows a person has a specific legal problem to go to a specific conference or meeting where that prospective client will be in attendance in order to initiate the exchange of contact information. An accident scene, a hospital room of an injured person, or a doctor’s office are not business or professional conferences or meetings within the meaning of the discussion above.
Bottom line: If implemented, the additional language in the Comment would clarify that lawyers can exchange contact information with potential clients at business events and on business-related social media however, it will caution that lawyers should not discuss a specific legal matter if the prospective client initiates it and if the discussion would compromise a prospective client’s confidentiality, the lawyer should defer discussion of the matter to a more appropriate location”.
Stay tuned…and be careful out there.
Disclaimer: this e-mail is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.
Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire
Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.
29605 U.S. Highway 19 N. Suite 150
Clearwater, Florida 33761
Office (727) 799-1688
Fax (727) 799-1670