ABA Issues Guidance for Lawyers on Email Protocols and ‘Reply All’ Use

The American Bar Association Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility released a formal opinion Nov. 2 providing guidance to lawyers cautioning them to generally refrain from including their clients when sending emails to opposing lawyers.

Formal Opinion 503 explores communications and the scope of ABA Model Rule 4.2, which is commonly called the “no-contact” or “anticontact” rule and has been part of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct since its inception in 1983, the ABA announced. 

The new formal opinion wouldn’t tag opposing lawyers with a violation of Rule 4.2 if they respond to a group email or text sent by the opposing counsel with a “reply all” even if that communication includes the opposing counsel’s client.

“Absent special circumstances, lawyers who copy their clients on emails or other forms of electronic communication to counsel representing another person in the matter [indicate] consent to a ‘reply all’ response from the receiving counsel,” the opinion said. “Accordingly, the reply all communication would not violate Model Rule 4.2.” 

Formal Opinion 503 suggests lawyers “who would like to avoid consenting to such communication should forward the email or text to the client separately or inform the receiving counsel in advance that including the client on the electronic communication does not constitute consent to a reply all communication.”

The ABA ethics committee periodically issues ethics opinions to guide lawyers, courts and the public in interpreting and applying ABA model ethics rules to specific issues of legal practice, client-lawyer relationships and judicial behavior. In September, the committee issued another opinion also focusing on Model Rule 4.2, which noted a lawyer who is self-represented cannot contact an opposing individual who is represented by counsel and must go through that individual’s attorney for communications. 

The ABA noted other recent ethics opinions are available on the ABA Center for Professional Responsibility web page.

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