Lawyers in Chat Rooms

The California State Bar recently issued an advisory ethics opinion that a lawyer may not post a message in a chat room for victims/families of a recent mass disaster where the lawyer announces herself as a lawyer and offers to answer questions. On the one hand, it’s hard to argue with this. Grieving victims and families need some space to work through their grief. On the other hand, a lawyer merely offering to answer questions in an Internet context, without more, seems fairly innocuous—and, indeed, may aid the grieving process by answering questions the participants may have. The opinion turns on the “intrusiveness” of the interaction, which is specific to California (the model rules refer to “coercion, duress or harassment”). Personally, this opinion strikes me as bumping up against First Amendment boundaries; perhaps it goes over the line.