LexisNexis has been providing visitors to Lawyers.com and martindale.com the ability to contact our subscribing attorneys via email for years. The email service benefits both prospective clients looking for legal representation as well as attorneys seeking new clients.
In early November we sent emails to nearly 250,000 non-subscribing attorneys (those without a paid Martindale-Hubbell® professional profile on Lawyers.com or martindale.com) notifying them that, for the first time, we were going to enable site visitors to contact those lawyers via email as well. Our email included an “opt-out” notice giving lawyers the opportunity to block these inquiries.
A November 17 bulletin issued by ALAS urged lawyers to opt out of this email service as a precautionary measure. In their alert ALAS said that they were not aware of any disclaimer connected to the Lawyers.com and martindale.com email services. This was a simple case of not investigating the sites before sending the alert. The LexisNexis disclaimer that accompanies the email submission form used by site visitors is clear, conspicuous, and easily understood. We spoke with ALAS immediately after receiving their alert and they send a new alert November 23 clarifying that our sites do have clear disclaimer language.
For reference, that language reads as follows:
If you send a lawyer or a law firm e-mail through this service, your e-mail will not create an attorney-client relationship and will not necessarily be treated as privileged or confidential. You should not send sensitive or confidential information via this e-mail service. The lawyer or law firm to whom you are writing may choose not to accept you as a client. Moreover, as the Internet is not necessarily a secure environment, it is possible that your e-mail sent via the Internet might be intercepted and read by third parties.
This disclaimer language follows the guidelines set forth in ABA Formal Opinion 10-457, issued August 5, 2010. For those of you not intimately familiar with this Opinion, it provides suggested guidelines for disclaimer language to be included on a lawyer’s website to effectively limit, condition, or disclaim a lawyer’s obligation to such website reader. It states:
Such warnings or statements may be written so as to avoid a misunderstanding by the website visitor that (1) a client-lawyer relationship has been created; (2) the visitor’s information will be kept confidential; (3) legal advice has been given; or (4) the lawyer will be prevented from representing an adverse party.
While the email submission form appears on our sites as opposed to an attorney’s own site the same principles apply. Such warnings are important as they are designed to avoid any misunderstanding about how and when a client-lawyer relationship is established. The disclaimer on our sites serves to provide the necessary warnings and protections for both consumers and attorneys. Of course, the rules of professional conduct vary in each state but we believe the ABA opinion serves as a useful guideline. Of course, attorneys must also ensure that the disclaimer on our sites meets the rules set forth by their state bar association.