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Hanging a Shingle on the Information Superhighway

Legal Advice on the Internet and the Problems of Prohibited Client Solicitation and Unintended Attorney-Client Relationships

By Darren Franklin

As the Internet demonstrates its financial potential, computer-savvy lawyers have begun to cash in on the cyberspace trend, offering Web sites that provide legal advice via e-mail, online discussion groups moderated by lawyers, and even live one-on-one chat with an attorney. These ventures raise many ethical issues, including the limits of allowed attorney advertising and the unintended creation of attorney-client relationships.

This article outlines the different legal services available on the Web and examines the ethical issues these projects raise and how states are trying to regulate them. It concludes that attorney chat rooms, in particular, pose a problem of prohibited client solicitation, and state bar associations should clarify whether their anti-solicitation rules extend to private chat rooms as well as public chat rooms. Moreover, Internet legal advice services may give rise to unintended attorney-client relationships because users often have a reasonable expectation that they are consulting a lawyer in a professional capacity. Finally, bar associations should pay special attention to fee-based services, as users will more likely expect a continuing relationship if they pay.

Posted in Articles.

March 13, 2001 Cite: 2001 Stan. Tech. L. Rev. 2