Do Not BCC Your Client When Emailing Opposing Counsel

The New York State Bar Association recently released an ethics opinion that, at first, blush, seems unnecessary: it warned you, gently, not to bcc your client on correspondence to opposing counsel. This seems rather far afield for an ethics opinion, particularly as that bcc is often a convenient way to keep your client apprised of what you are doing (and a regular cc gives your client’s email address to opposing counsel, which you also do not want.)

The ethics opinion does conclude that neither a cc nor a bcc raises any ethical concerns as such. What the opinion is really warning you about is something we should all be terrified of, lawyers or no: the horror of an incorrect use of “reply all.” Your client isn’t likely to inadvertently create an email storm like the one that hit Thomson Reuters employees, where 33,000 (!) people were caught in a “reply all” chain, but a client’s careless use of “reply all” can create a different sort of disaster.

For lawyers, the stakes are, of course, even higher.  As the committee pointed out, “if the enquirer and opposing counsel are communicating about a possible settlement of litigation, the inquirer bccs his or her client, and the client hits “reply all” when commenting on the proposal, the client may inadvertently disclose to opposing counsel confidential information otherwise protected by Rule 1.6.”

The ethics opinion recommends solving this by just taking the extra step and forwarding an email to your client rather than copying them, blind or otherwise. That is an excellent idea, not only because it means you avoid the “reply all” possibility. Forwarding allows you to provide your client with a couple sentences of context or explanation  about that communication with opposing counsel. So there you have it—(at least) two good reasons to make a point of forwarding emails instead of copying your client.

Featured image: “Speech bubble illustration of information technology acronym abbreviation term definition BCC Blind Carbon Copy” from Shutterstock.


  1. Thanks for the link to The Law for Lawyers Today! So happy to know about Bitter Lawyer!

  2. Avatar Eric Johnson says:

    Another ethics opinion based upon the assumption that lawyers are smarter and sharper than their clients, that their clients are retarded, that clients are not responsible for their own actions, and thus that clients are dependent upon their lawyers to save them from themselves. Far better to have the Bar conclude that it’s an “ethical” responsibility of lawyers to render it harder for clients to be accountable for their own acts and omissions. That’s not what lawyer ethics are about, and if the very good reason why isn’t obvious to bar association opinion panels, the problem lies with the panels, not with the bar association’s membership.

  3. Avatar Robert Begotka says:

    This seems like a perfectly sensible opinion to me. The opinions states:

    1. It is not unethical (deceptive) to bcc your client on communications with opposing counsel.

    2. The best practice is to NOT cc or bcc the client because of the risk that the client will respond to all (including opposing counsel) and risk sharing privileged or embarrassing comments.

    3. Better to forward the email to client separately, perhaps with a short note explaining the purpose/significance of communication.

    What’s the problem with that?

  4. Avatar Eric Gormly says:

    I agree with Mr. Begotka, and believe Mr. Johnson may have misinterpreted what was intended. The N.Y. Bar’s opinion did not assume that clients are idiots, or presume to dictate under the guise of an ethics opinion. It simply issued a common-sense statement that avoid the blind carbon copy and forwarding instead would safeguard against (a) disclosure of privileged communication or confidential information (which is where the ethics link comes in), or (b) exposing a potentially embarrassing (or worse) exchange of opinions, by removing the possibility of making a mistake that all of us (if we are honest) have made at least once – hitting the “Reply All” button when intending to hit the “Reply” button.
    Another is setting up Outlook (or other email client) so that the “Send” button only cues the email in the Outbox, and requiring an additional click on the “Send All” button before it leaves one’s computer. That has saved me on several occasions.
    Just ways to avoid a few of the unexpected mines in the minefield of litigation.

  5. Avatar Diane Camacho says:

    I’m not sure anyone is saying anyone is an idiot. Technology is not as intuitive as everyone thinks it is especially when someone is not dependent on it for his/her livelihood like most of our clients.

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