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BOSTON — Unsolicited e-mails sent from a potential client through a link on a law firm’s Web site must be kept confidential and may keep the firm from representing adverse parties, according to a recent opinion from the Massachusetts Bar Association’s Committee on Professional Ethics. The lawyer who received the e-mail would be obligated to keep information confidential, which could impede the firm from representing opposing parties. “Whether the lawyer’s firm can represent a party adverse to the prospective client depends on whether the lawyer’s obligation to preserve the prospective client’s confidences will materially limit the firm’s ability to represent the adverse party,” stated the opinion. The opinion arose from a confidential question sent to the committee, said the association’s president Mark D. Mason, who is also a partner at Springfield, Mass.-based Cooley Shrair. “It addresses a concern that has been growing for quite some time relative to Internet contact with prospective clients,” Mason said. “All attorneys must be keenly aware of traps for the unwary in marketing their law firms online.” The committee believes firms could prevent disqualification through a disclaimer message tied to an e-mail link on the firm’s Web site, such as one requiring the user to click on a pop up screen assenting to terms of use. Yet the opinion also noted that the state’s Supreme Judicial Court’s ethics rules have not specifically addressed the issue. The bar association’s ethics opinions don’t carry the authority of a court rule, Mason said. “A firm seeking that level of security would have to rely on a Supreme Judicial Court proceeding,” Mason said. The association’s House of Delegates released the ruling on May 23.

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