Are lawyers allowed to respond publicly to negative comments made by clients to the media?

If you have a client that is making critical or untrue statements about you in the media, that does not give you the right to disclose information about the client publicly. In a recent case, a client who lost a case related to his earthquake-damaged home, made malignant comments about his lawyer to the media. The media approached the lawyer for comment who responded saying that the client failed to listen or accept advice, that there was no credible evidence to support his claim and that the client would not co-operate about settlement. The lawyer’s view was that by going to the media, the client waived the solicitor-client privilege in the communication.

The National Standards Committee held that the doctrine of legal professional privilege is distinct from the duties of confidence and that the latter stand on their own. Therefore, a lawyer is still bound by the duty to treat the information related to the client in confidence and not disclose that to the public at large.

There is nothing stopping a lawyer from saying that they have done everything they could to assist the client.

#National Standards Committee v Shand [2019] NZLCDT 2.