San Diego County Bar Issues Ethical Opinion Addressing Friend Requests

On May 24, 2011, the San Diego County Bar Association issued SDCBA Legal Ethics Opinion 2011-2, addressing the question of whether counsel may send a “friend request” to opposing parties.  Following extensive analysis of the issue, the opinion concludes as follows:

Social Media sites have opened a broad highway on which users may post thier most private personal information.  But Facebook, at least, enables its users to place limits on who may see that information.  The rules of ethics impose limits on how attorneys may obtain information that is not publicly available, particularly from opposing parties who are represented by counsel.

We have concluded that those rules bar an attorney from making an ex parte friend request of a represented party.  An attorney’s ex parte communication to a represented party intended to elicit information about the subject matter of the representation is impermissible no matter what words are used in the communication and no matter how that communication is transmitted to the represented party.  We have further concluded that the attorney’s duty not to deceive prohibits him from making a friend request even of unrepresented witnesses without disclosing the purpose of the request.  Represented parties shouldn’t have “friends” like that and no one – represented or not, party or non-party – should be misled into accepting such friendship.  In our view, this strikes the right balance between allowing unfettered access to what is public on the Internet about parties without intruding on the attorney-client relationship of opposing parties and surreptitiously circumventing the privacy even of those who are unrepresented.

A full copy of the opinion is available here.

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