When you first see the headline “Lawyer Is Suspended for His Response to Internet Criticism,” it is easy to assume that a tech-hating functionary sitting in a professional responsibility office somewhere fundamentally misunderstood the internet and hung some poor lawyer out to dry. Yeah, not in this instance.
After doing the run-of-the-mill sorts of things that always get attorneys in trouble — asking for money for filing fees when there actually are no filing fees, failing to keep clients apprised of litigation events — Colorado attorney James Underhill found that his clients were, unsurprisingly, unhappy with his performance. In fact, they took to social media to talk about it, which is where things went awry in a spectacular and novel fashion.
He responded with internet postings that publicly shamed the couple by disclosing highly sensitive and confidential information gleaned from attorney-client discussions.
That is a bad idea! And then Underhill made it even worse.
Underhill then sued the couple for defamation. Although he knew that the couple had retained counsel, Underhill communicated with them ex parte on several occasions, even though their counsel repeatedly implored him not to do so. […] When the lawsuit was dismissed, Underhill brought a second defamation action in a different court, alleging without adequate factual basis that the couple had made other defamatory internet postings.
Even if you have only the most rudimentary understanding of how the Internet works, you are probably pretty clear on the idea that you do not post privileged information there, and you are certainly clear that ex parte communication with someone you are suing is the worst idea ever. This lawyer isn’t a Luddite, he’s a fool.
Featured image: “Furious frustrated businessman hitting the computer” from Shutterstock.