The Internet and social media have changed many aspects of 21st century life. The Internet has also changed the way business is conducted. Nearly all large companies and even small organizations have established a web presence.
However, some professions have hesitated to join the social media revolution. Many lawyers especially view social media involvement as a malpractice lawsuit waiting to happen. Practicing due diligence and ethical conduct is just as important, if not more so, for attorneys who venture into the online world. That said, the online world presents definite advantages for attorneys.
Social Media Advantages
Lawyers can demonstrate their expertise to potential clients by providing commentary through Twitter or blog posts on current news stories and pressing social issues. Lawyers who want to jump into the social media arena have a host of tools at their disposal. Applications like TweetDeck and HootSuite allow lawyers to sort an endless stream of Twitter posts into useful categories while allowing directing their own posts to multiple platforms. Facebook lists sort news updates into meaningful categories, while the LinkedIn homepage allows users to highlight posts from their contacts and other individuals, companies or groups that they are “following.”
Maintaining Privacy and Confidentiality
A major – and legitimate – concern many lawyers have about engaging in social media is protecting their clients’ privacy and maintaining the confidentiality of information clients share with them. Identity theft, hackers and viruses can potentially expose sensitive client data to unauthorized persons, or wipe out essential records. Strong encryption for all client data transmitted or stored online or through social media platforms is a must.
Attorneys may also inadvertently expose client data by going into too much detail about individual cases in blog entries or other social media platforms, even if they don’t mention particular clients by name. Focus online blog posts and Twitter comments to general legal issues, not specific cases to which you are a party. While you cannot control what your clients say or do on their own social media accounts, you should caution them about disclosing too much information online. At the same time, actively discourage clients and other individuals from discussing their cases on your Twitter feed, Facebook page or blog comment section.
Social Media Dos and Don’ts
While it’s true that professionals like attorneys and physicians must practice precautions that other professionals don’t have to concern themselves with, it’s not necessary for lawyers to avoid social media altogether. Law firms should establish social media policies for lawyers and non-legal staff, with reasonable limits on what they write on Facebook pages or Twitter feeds established by the firm. Lawyers and other staff who establish personal Facebook and Twitter accounts should be instructed to avoid giving the impression that their personal observations represent official positions of the firm.
Individual attorneys who enter into the social media arena must walk a fine line between providing legal commentary and giving legal advice. This is especially true when individuals seek out lawyers as Facebook “friends” or inquire about specific legal problems on a lawyer’s blog. A disclaimer that states that content contained on social media platforms does not constitute legal advice is a standard strategy used by attorneys.
Lawyers should be extremely cautious establishing personal or professional online connections with present or past clients. Under no circumstances should attorneys communicate with clients about pending or closed cases through social media, either through public comments or private messaging. Lawyers should also be cautious about establishing possible conflicts of interest by connecting with individuals who are involved in ongoing disputes.
For Further Reading
Firms, Courts Adapt to Changing Social Media World
From the Social Media Trenches: A Roundtable Discussion
Lawyers and Social Media: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?