Tuesday, February 5, 2013
We often warn students about the dangers that lie in using the internet. However, in the Student Lawyer, Professor Mary Dunnewold notes that in some cases, lawyers have an ethical duty to research on the internet. For example:
Lawyers should consider using social media such as Facebook and basic Google searching to screen clients before agreeing to representation. Screening clients this way may be especially important in domestic cases, some criminal cases, and other cases that potentially involve personal information about clients.
In a recent case in federal court (Cajamarca v. Regal Entertainment Group), a lawyer was reprimanded by the judge (and ultimately sanctioned), in part, for essentially failing to adequately investigate his client’s case early in the course of representation. During discovery in the sexual harassment lawsuit, material facts emerged showing that the lawyer’s client had lied about the incidents that led to the claim, the symptoms she experienced as a result, and her personal history. The court stated that “at the very least, [the lawyer] did an extraordinarily poor job of client intake in not learning highly material information about his client.” Much of that information had been available on Facebook, and it was ultimately discovered in the litigation process.