CHICAGO, Nov. 2, 2022 — The American Bar Association Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility released a formal opinion today that provides practical guidance to lawyers operating in an email world, 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 new formal opinion would not 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 (infers) 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.”
As a practical matter, Formal Opinion 503 suggests that 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 Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility 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 late September, the committee issued an opinion, also focusing on Model Rule 4.2, which noted that 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.
Other recent ABA ethics opinions are available on the ABA Center for Professional Responsibility web page.
The ABA is the largest voluntary association of lawyers in the world. As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law.