Unsolicited Emails to Lawyers Confidential?

Unsolicited Emails to Lawyers confidential

Unsolicited Emails to Lawyers Confidential?/Photo by Kat Jayne from Pexels

Emails, Emails, Emails

On a daily basis, I received hundreds of emails/DM’s/messages from strangers on the internet.  I guess it’s the way of the world; it’s easier to communicate with text/email than dial a number.

Below are hypothetical emails I may or may not have received over the years…

“I am pregnant with a married man’s baby…”

“I am divorcing my wife because she won’t have sex with me…”

“My boyfriend offered to pay me money for an abortion…”

These types of emails should NEVER be sent to anyone, much less to a random stranger!

Don’t Email Random Lawyers

NEVER send details of your legal case to a random lawyer that you have NOT yet hired.

Only Email Your Lawyer

How do you know you’ve hired a lawyer?  You’ve signed a contract for legal services (a retainer agreement) with them.  Until you and the lawyer have BOTH signed the contract clearly defining the scope of services, that lawyer is NOT your lawyer.

Your Divorce Lawyer Isn’t Your Lawyer For Everything, Unless Agreed to Writing

Incidentally, just because you’ve hired a lawyer in one capacity, does not mean that that particular lawyer is your lawyer in every capacity.  Example: Joe Blow hires me to represent him in his divorce.  I am his lawyer for his divorce.  Later that afternoon, Joe Blow gets into a car accident.  Just because I am Joe Blow’s divorce lawyer, does NOT mean I am also his personal injury lawyer unless we have a written contract.

Why You Shouldn’t Send Emails to Random Lawyers
First, It Lacks Common Sense

First, I don’t think you should ever email a stranger, because it lacks common sense.

This general lack of common sense appears to be the norm these days.  I believe it is a reflection of the isolation of our society.  Whatever happened to the good old days where if one had problems, one would telephone a friend, or better, go to a friend’s house and talk?

Our society is in dire need of friends.  If you ever feel the urge to send a detailed email to a stranger, fight it.  Instead, call a friend.

Second, Unsolicited Emails From Non-Clients NOT Privileged

Attorney-client privilege only arises in the context of an attorney-client relationship, or a prospective client-attorney relationship.  It is an evidentiary rule that protects communications between an attorney and client from disclosure in litigation.  The client holds the privilege, and the client can waive it.

The 4 components to attorney-client privilege are:

  1. Communications
  2. Made between attorney and client
  3. In confidence
  4. For purpose of obtaining legal assistance.

An unsolicited email to a random lawyer is NOT privileged.

Third, Unsolicited Email Are Not Confidential If Lawyer Had No Chance to Stop It

Are unsolicited emails confidential? Probably not.

Confidentiality is broader than privilege.  Unlike privilege (found in the Evidence Code), confidentiality deals with ethics (found in Rules of Professional Conduct, and State Bar Ethics Opinions)

The San Diego County Bar Ethics has spoken via Ethics Opinion 2006-1 : Private information received from a non-client via an unsolicited e-mail is not required to be held as confidential by the lawyer, where the lawyer has not had an opportunity to warn or stop the flow of non-client information at or before the communication is delivered.

Fourth, Unsolicited Emails  With No Expectation of Privacy are NOT Confidential And Can Be Used Against You

If it’s not held to be “confidential”, it can be used against you.

For example, if Husband consulted with my firm and hires my firm, and later that day, I receive an unsolicited email from Wife on my clear confidentiality disclaimer website, I can use the unsolicited, non-privileged, non-confidential email against Wife for my client.

It also means, if Husband consulted with me, and yet decides NOT to hire me, I still cannot represent Wife.  Thus, Wife’s email was sent in vain.

Fifth, Unsolicited Inquiries From Website ALSO Not Confidential If Clear Warning On Website

What about a firm website, inviting you to contact them?  If a prospective client submits information via the website, is that information confidential?

The State Bar of California Standing Committee on Professional Responsibility and Conduct said in its
FORMAL OPINION NO. 2005-168 : A lawyer may avoid incurring a duty of confidentiality to persons who seek legal services by visiting the lawyer’s web site and disclose confidential information only if the lawyer’s web site contains a statement in sufficiently plain language that any information submitted at the web site will not be confidential.

In plain terms, on my Contact Us page, I state the following:

  1.  Please only send information necessary to perform a conflict check.
  2.  Any email sent via internet to the Law and Mediation Offices of Kelly Chang does NOT create any attorney-client relationship.
  3. Warning: Private information received from a non-client via unsolicited e-mail is not required to be held as confidential by the Law and Mediation Offices of Kelly Chang.
What if a law firm does not have a clear disclaimer?

Don’t take the risk.  Discussions should be in person, NOT email.

Finally, Unsolicited Emails Go To Spam

Finally, never send random emails because more than likely, the busy lawyer will not read them.  Every day, my inbox (as well as direct messages on social media) have red notifications that I simply don’t have time to tend to.  I understand prospective clients’ needs to receive instantaneous support, and many websites have “chatbots” working 24/7.

In reality, these emails and messages are filtered by robots and staff.  Attorneys are not reading them.  Perhaps I’ll glance at a few emails here and there, but I will never respond to an unsolicited email from a stranger.

Preserve Confidentiality and Privilege: One-On-One Consultation With Attorney

Don’t send emails.  Call the firm.  Talk to Staff to Schedule a One-on-One with Attorney.

Have a case like this?

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