Friday, February 4, 2011

The professional ethic pitfalls of social media

Social media gives lawyers great opportunities to market themselves as well as lots of chances to run afoul of professional ethics rules.  For instance, if you blog about a recent court victory, several ethics opinions suggests you might be violating the prohibition against lawyer advertising.  This article from the February issue of the ABA Journal explains:

Distinguishing between personal communications and advertisements in social media can be tough. 'If I get a substantial verdict in a case and I put all the details of the case on my Facebook page, is that advertising or am I just communicating to my 149 friends on Facebook? I don't know,' [one law firm partner asks].

Some experts, however, think the answer is fairly clear. 'A long series of ethics opinions [including ABA Formal Opinion 10-457 (2010) and Arizona Ethics Opinion 97-04 (1997)] indicate that if online activities promote a law practice, it is attorney advertising,' says Michael P. Downey, a partner at Hinshaw & Culbertson in St. Louis and a member of the working group. 'If I announce a court victory on Twitter, it is an ad. [But] if you blog and never mention you're a lawyer and never mention your law firm, it is probably not an ad.' He adds that there's an easy way for attorneys to determine whether their social media posts should be considered advertisements: 'If I'm doing this to help get myself hired, it is an ad.'

What if a client posts a positive comment on your Facebook page?  Does that raise an ethical problem too?  Click here to find out how the attorney should respond.


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