Googling Clients -- How Much Should You Dig Online?
Googling a potential client should be part of any law firm's client intake process. After all, an adversary most certainly will, and it doesn't take more than a few minutes to find red flags that will warrant further research or discussion.
However, for many lawyers, knowing how deep you need to dig online for negative information about your potential client is a difficult question to answer. While criminal defense attorneys might not care what comes up, for civil practitioners, it matters. Generally, how much it matters will depend on the potential client and the type of case.
Below you can read about some of the flags that might warrant a deeper background check, and what to do if you find those flags.
Scary Social Media or Internet Presence
While the First Amendment provides for the freedom of speech, if a person uses that freedom to push hate, lies, or objectionably deplorable memes, you might want to think twice about representing them. While even the devil deserves a defense, you're not under any obligation to be the lawyer to do it.
After all, not all publicity is good publicity.
Easy to Find Criminal History
If the news article about your client's spectacular, ninja-like, Lamborghini theft comes up on the first page of Google when you type in their name, expect that it will be public knowledge within the first day after your complaint or action is in the public record.
Handling Bad Client Info
If you find something online and are unsure if it is accurate or actually connected to your potential client, don't be afraid to ask. You should take bad facts and bad information very seriously. If the explanation you get isn't satisfactory, then you might want to consider passing. If it would be a good case but for a criminal record, there may be options for you to explore, such as having the client pursue an expungement.
Alternatively, if the risk of a jury's personal prejudice is really bad, you might even consider taking the matter on with the express provision that the client will agree to a bench trial if possible.
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