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Lawyers Must Embrace Social Media, Part 2

by Bradley A. Friedman on July 7, 2011

In Part 1 of this series we explored the necessity of embracing social media while not losing sight of an attorney’s ethical obligations.  We discussed the need to put a thoughtful online plan in place and explored some of the risks of participating in social networks.  In Part 2 of this series we’ll explore ways to manage those risks while continuing to embrace this new world.

Think Before You Tweet

It is important to acknowledge that every potential client, as well as opposing parties and their attorneys has looked you up online. They have visited your firm’s website, your blog, and your LinkedIn profile (you remember, the one you created several years ago that still doesn’t have your photo in it). The beauty is that you have total control over what they see. You control your personal and your firm’s brand. You control what you post on social networks, what you write in blog posts, and your tweets on Twitter. You also must acknowledge there are risks associated with your behavior in these arenas.

The absolute best way to control the risk of using social networks is to simply to think before you type, or assign the task of maintaining your online presence to one who is familiar with the constricts you face.  We understand you have pressure to bill an appropriate number of hours each year.  We also understand when you aren’t billing those hours you want to be spending time with your family and taking your mind off your work.  Engaging a knowledgeable third-party to assist you with the management of your online presence is an option you may wish to explore.

When in doubt, don’t post it!  That is good advice, only if you are thinking about the risks that could possibly give rise to the doubt.  In general, it is good practice to avoid sharing information related to your work publicly, unless you have predetermined there is no risk in doing so.  Attorneys involved in social networks should:

  • Be aware of the security and privacy policy of the social network they are participating in;
  • Use the privacy protections available to limit who sees your posts.  Remember, each time another person comments on your post, its reach multiplies many, many times;
  • Think before you accept a “Friend Request,” keeping in mind “Friends” follow your updates;
  • Separate personal pages from professional ones, but never forget that both pages will be found by anyone looking;
  • Write a policy for your firm specifically outlining the appropriate use of personal and profession social network pages, while specifying the type of information that may be shared;
  • Advise your employees that you will be monitoring their posts and then do it;
  • Keep up with changing technology;
  • Understand the risks and benefits of being able to post data in real time from smartphones, iPads and other devices;
  • As technology advances are made, modify your policies as needed;
  • Recognize that, regardless of your privacy settings, no social network post is truly private; and
  • Remember, anything posted on the Internet is a public statement that will be accessible to others forever.

Take Advantage of Social Networking Opportunities

Networks like LinkedIn, Legal Onramp, and others are geared toward professionals who wish to build networks that enable them to exchange information, collaborate with colleagues and obtain referrals.  These sites are used most effectively when you take the time to prepare and publish a profile describing who you are and what you do.  Care must be taken when publishing your profile and participating in these networks.  One still must keep ethical constraints in mind.  The same is true for attorneys writing blog posts and responding to comments left by clients, prospective clients and referral sources.

Sharing information with a colleague on Legal Onramp is important.  Participating in LinkedIn Groups and Answers is also important.  These are ways you establish credibility online, and it’s this credibility that helps you build networks that enable you to communicate with colleagues, clients, prospective clients and referral sources.  Though this is important, it remains important that one keeps in mind the risks.

For example, we strongly suggest attorneys participate in LinkedIn Groups and Answers.  One must do so by including disclaimers within these answers.  Attorneys must avoid answers that appear to establish an attorney client relationship or result in the belief that one’s expertise results in an attorney being held to a higher standard of care when faced with a professional liability claim.  This may be avoided with appropriate disclaimers rather than avoiding the social networks all together.

Conclusion

Attorneys must embrace social media.  Attorneys who don’t heed this message are likely to be out of business in the next three to five years.  Social media is changing the way attorneys communicate with colleagues, clients, prospective clients and referral sources.  Lawyers must competently manage their use of this social media and may do so by engaging a third-party vendor familiar with confidentiality and privacy obligations.  Attorneys must have firm policies in place and in writing.  One should also keep in mind that sometimes the pace of change on the Internet outruns the pace in which courts and ethics committees update rules or issue guidance.

Think before you tweet or post a status update.  Use disclaimers.  When in doubt, DON’T.  Most importantly, remember common sense and professionalism is likely to be your best approach to using the Internet to build your credibility and your practice.

Our Own Disclaimer

The information we share in Part 1 and Part 2 of this series is for informational purposes only.  We are not, under any circumstances, providing legal advice of any kind.  Examples used in these blog posts were used for illustrative purposes only and are not intended to establish any standards of care or serve as legal advice.  Accordingly, these posts should not be viewed as a substitute for the guidance and recommendations of a professional you engage to give such advice.

{ 2 comments }

Barb Cashman Hahn July 8, 2011 at 9:05 am

I liked this series Brad, especially the bullets you provide about using social media with the requisite care. I found your disclaimer at the end of Part II interesting – do you think there is a need for a “social media disclaimer” at the end of a blog post for ethical or malpractice purposes?!

Brad Friedman July 8, 2011 at 3:32 pm

Hi Barb, thanks for taking the time to read the post and write your comment. The short answer to your question is “No.” I do not believe there is any need to end a blog post with a disclaimer. I included it in my post mainly for illustrative purposes. I do strongly suggest your firm website and blog contain a disclaimer somewhere. Some people have a disclaimer on the bottom of each page, some have a specific page dedicated to a disclaimer, but it should be somewhere on your website and your blog.

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