Many lawyers have a tendency to brag about their work over cocktails with just about anybody who cares to listen. It is a combination of ego and selling. Recently, I was a faculty panel member at a PA Bar Institute program entitled “Cocktail Party Chatter” in which we discussed a number of ethical considerations all lawyers should be aware of in social settings. Lawyers may not realize that they are giving legal advice and creating an attorney-client relationship. As a result, the lawyer may become liable for his loose lips.
Below are the top-10 highlights of the program, moderated by my colleague Chris Fallon, Esq.:
THE TOP 10 THINGS LAWYERS SHOULD NEVER SAY AT A SOCIAL EVENT
1. Remember that in social settings, many people may ask for your opinion and advice on a legal matter. Be careful not to be so free with your professional advice because the consequences of establishing an attorney/client relationship where you had no such intention may likely fall upon you and not the client.
2. Never provide a casual acquaintance at a cocktail party or other social event with free legal advice unless you are sure that you want to enter an attorney-client relationship.
3. Be careful not to disclose confidential information learned from a would be client at a social setting.
4. Never give confidential legal advice in the presence of strangers.
5. Be careful to avoid representation of someone without clearing conflicts — it is impossible to check for a conflict at a cocktail party!
6. Never misstate your qualifications, experience or expertise or hold yourself out to prospective clients as an “expert” in a particular area of the practice of law unless specifically permitted under the Rules of Professional Conduct.
7. Never guarantee success nor exaggerate your ability to win a case.
8. Never state to the person with whom you are speaking that you know the Judge or a government agent implying a relationship which will somehow help you in a potential matter.
9. Gossip at a cocktail party is never beneficial and it could expose a client confidence.
10. Refrain from making statements about a defendant or its product which, if spoken in court, are privileged, but when spoken outside the protected litigation forum are no longer privileged and may be defamatory.
Remember, you are always a member of the Bar when you are at a bar.