California Bar Risks Lawyer Suits After Data Breach Notices

The State Bar of California’s plan to notify attorneys whose names were exposed in a data breach of disciplinary records may spur litigation from lawyers who feel their reputations have been tarnished.The California bar said it will send notices to complainants, witnesses, and respondents whose names appeared in the over 320,000 confidential records that were posted on a third-party site and available from October 2021 to February 2022. It said it wasn’t legally required to provide the notifications, but would do so regardless.

We are taking these steps because we believe it’s the right thing to do,” said Leah Wilson, the executive director of the California bar, in a statement. “The State Bar is committed to transparency, and maintaining the public’s trust in our agency is paramount.”

Notices are expected to reach approximately 1,300 people whose names appeared in confidential records that showed evidence of a page view on the third-party site, including people tied to six records that contained a case type signaling mental illness or substance abuse.

Attorneys who receive these notifications and experience negative impacts on their career could bring negligence or emotional distress claims against the California bar, lawyers said.

“Litigation is a real possibility for people if they suffer reputational harm and it affects their ability to practice,” said Lucie Huger, an attorney at Greensfelder, Hemker & Gale P.C. in St. Louis. “Those who have experienced the breach are going to say: This should never have happened.”

Attorneys from Cooley LLP, who are advising the California bar, didn’t respond to a request for comment.

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