Oct. 19, 2011 – Ethical dilemmas affect every lawyer’s practice. This series of questions and answers appears each month in InsideTrack. The answers, offered by State Bar’s ethics counsel org tpierce wisbar Timothy Pierce, are intended to provide guidance only and are not legal authority. Each situation will depend on the facts and circumstances involved.
I represent a small corporation on most matters that come up for them. My partner, who does a lot of employment law, just told me that he received an unsolicited e-mail from one of my client’s employees (he must have visited our firm’s website), saying that he had heard that my partner was one of the best employment lawyers in town and he needed someone to sue his employer. The employee said it would be an easy case because he had clearly been treated unfairly in a number of ways, which he explained in detail, and that he was currently being harassed by his manager. My partner is not going to respond because we know we can’t represent this employee, but I want to tell my client about this situation. If my client knows, they can take some remedial action, which might prevent my client from being sued and help the disgruntled employee. Can I let my client know to head off this problem?
If the law firm’s website has adequate disclaimers to the effect that persons transmitting information by unsolicited e-mails cannot expect confidentiality or the formation of a lawyer-client relationship, then the lawyer has no duty to hold the information in confidence. If, conversely, the website simply invites e-mail contacts without an adequate and conspicuous disclaimer, the lawyer cannot disclose the information.
Reference: SCR 20:1.6; SCR 20:1.18; Wisconsin Formal Ethics Opinion EF-11-03; “To Whom it May Concern,” David Hricik, The Professional Lawyer, Vol. 16 No. 3 (2005).
For more information, visit the Ethics webpage on WisBar.