Is it OK to Google a Client? Of Course It Is. I’m Probably Googling You Right Now.

The American Bar Association Journal recently posted an article called “Is it OK to Google a client?” The story compares the act to a physician searching for information about patients online, which the story suggests is a violation of the patient’s privacy expectations.

Frankly, I was a little surprised at this article, because: (1) it’s the 21st century; and (2) when I get a call from a new client or a lawyer referring me work, the first thing I do is google them. Sometimes, I run the searches while I am talking to them on the phone.

Why? Because, as a lawyer, you are an extension of the client. A quick google search reveals their business page, news stories about them, and a general sense of “who they are.” By hiring you, a client asks you to advocate for their position. Wouldn’t it be relevant to see who it is that you’re going to stake some part of your professional reputation on?

Let’s be honest, the number # 1 test for a prospective client is “Is this a Crazy Person?” (Closely followed by: “Can this client pay my fees?”)

Once you represent them, it’d be malpractice not to have googled the client. What if the client was making statements online (or posting videos or photos) that have a direct bearing on their case? If you don’t find it, you can be sure that opposing counsel will.

Speaking of which, don’t think for a second that I don’t google opposing counsel and/or opposing parties. In fact, one of the best items a creditor can obtain on a credit application is an e-mail address, which I’ve called the 21st century fingerprint. Google, Facebook, Linkedin, and Twitter are all fair game.

What a strange article for the American Bar Association. I’m going to google the author now.

Sometimes, I use Google for Legal Research

I received an e-mail from a potential client this week that sort of confused me. Frankly, I didn’t know the answer.

The dispute related to a term I hadn’t seen before. The issue involved a check that his bank had returned, unpaid, to the other bank as “Return to Maker.” When I saw that, I went around the other bank lawyers. That’s my real “first step in researching weird legal issues”–asking the older bank lawyers if they’ve ever seen this.

When they either hadn’t (or weren’t at their desks), well, I consulted Google.

And, sure, you’re probably thinking that a lawyer shouldn’t admit to googling legal questions, but you’re wrong. Google is great to get general answers or concepts, before digging down on Westlaw.

In fact, I suspect Google is how the readers of this blog got here. But, Google can’t be entirely trusted, and you have to consider the legitimacy and trust-worthiness of the source when you click on the results.

So, yes, I found out that “return to maker” means, generally, that the payor bank has reason to deny the check due to a suspicion that the negotiable instrument has been forged, modified, or is generally unsure of the legitimacy. That note instructs the drawee bank to revisit the issue with their customer.

With that information (and before I gave out any legal advice), I did that deep dive on Westlaw  to confirm my analysis under Tennessee’s UCC adoption of Article 3.

So, there you have it. If a lawyer denies using Google, don’t believe them.