Lawyers: Are You Talking Too Loudly in Public?

By Mark Wilson, Esq. on February 05, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

You know what's fun? Stories about other lawyers' professional responsibility foibles. There's a certain, how do you say, schadenfreude, that we get out of hearing that a lawyer made a terrible ethical gaffe.

Today, we counsel on the problem of the lawyer who talks too loudly, spilling firm secrets or client confidences over lunch, on the subway, in an elevator, or on an airplane.

Don't Talk About Cases in Public!

You've seen it happen before: People talking loudly on their cellphones in a public place like a waiting room. They're usually not talking about football or the weather; more likely, it's whether Cousin Myrtle is cheating on her husband, or how that growth on your back is looking today.

Lawyers, obviously, have a duty to keep client secrets. So not only is it annoying when lawyers talk loudly on the train about their clients, but it's also unethical and a violation of every state's professional responsibility rules. Once information is out, it's no longer privileged.

Attorneys should also inform their friends and significant others to keep mum about who their clients are. In 2012, the NCAA dropped its investigation into the eligibility of freshman UCLA basketball player Shabazz Muhammad shortly after a completely unrelated attorney heard someone sitting in front of her on an airplane, talking to someone else about the investigation. The man kept referring to his girlfriend's work as an NCAA attorney and insisted that the NCAA would find Muhammad ineligible to play (even though the investigation had only just started).

On second thought, why was the girlfriend telling her boyfriend all this stuff in the first place? There's another problem. Lawyers shouldn't be spilling client secrets in private, either.

And Don't Talk About Firm Gossip!

"Out in public" also isn't the time to air your firm's dirty laundry, as Above the Law chronicled in a 2009 story: A man on a train conversed on a cellphone, loudly enough for others to hear, about people who were due to be fired from Pillsbury. That man made the mistake of identifying himself over the phone as well.

Bad publicity for the firm can get you into as much trouble as blabbing about clients. You don't get a black mark from the state bar, but you certainly get a nastygram in your file, and don't think that's not going to hang around as you attempt to get jobs at other firms.

So whether you're out at lunch or at the gym, don't talk about work! You don't want to accidentally reveal confidences, and besides, don't you have something more interesting to talk about?

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