New York City Bar Opinion 2015-3 on Internet Scams to Lawyers


In Formal Opinion 2015-3, the Committee on Professional Ethics of NY City Bar opined on the increasing recurrence of internet scams directed to lawyers

Digest of the opinion:

“An attorney who discovers that he is the target of an Internet-based trust account scam does not have a duty of confidentiality towards the individual attempting to defraud him, and is free to report the individual to law enforcement authorities, because that person does not qualify as a prospective or actual client of the attorney. However, before concluding that an individual is attempting to defraud the attorney and is not owed the duties normally owed to a prospective or actual client, the attorney must exercise reasonable diligence to investigate whether the person is engaged in fraud.  In addition, because Internet-based trust account scams may harm other firm clients, a lawyer who receives a request for representation via the Internet has a duty to conduct a reasonable investigation to ascertain whether the person is a legitimate prospective client before accepting the representation. A lawyer who discovers he has been defrauded in a manner that results in harm to other clients of the law firm, such as the loss of client funds due to an escrow account scam, must promptly notify the harmed clients.”

The opinion is very interesting because, besides listing several cases, describes the bank mechanics of the fraud and gives examples of typical scams. The opinion also lists some red flags that should induce a lawyer to distrust certain requests for representation.

RULES: 1.1, 1.4, 1.6, 1.15, and 1.18

Read the full text of opinion