Quora: An Argument Against Regulation of Lawyers' Use of Social Media.

John HellermanExcerpted from John Hellerman's Hellerman Baretz blog:

"If you're familiar with social media, you've heard about Quora by now.  Like Yahoo! Answers, it's a collection of questions asked and answered by its users. Blogger Kevin O'Keefe of LexBlog says that Quora "will be very attractive to lawyers looking to enhance their reputations and connect with their target audience."

The idea is that by providing quality answers to Quora's legal questions, a lawyer can raise her profile and, in turn, generate business.  "At HBC, we want to highlight the way in which Quora underscores a larger topic: ABA regulation of social media activity.  And, if we do say so, the case of Quora proves us right."

The ABA is considering developing special ethics rules around lawyers' use of blogs and social networks. 

As John told the ABA, this would be a mistake. His reasoning is simple: the Model Rules of Professional Conduct regulate the substance of communications made by attorneys, not the method by which those communications are made.  The rules, therefore, already cover what lawyers say on blogs and other online venues. 

His second point was that designing special rules for social media also would be impractical.  He noted that "it is a virtual certainty that the features of today's robust networking platforms will change and proliferate over time.  Attempting to address the universe of Internet platforms with specific Model Rules (or addendums to existing rules) will sentence the ABA to a futile, time consuming, and never-ending mission to amend the rules' language to keep pace with the networks' ever-changing natures."

Quora proves both points. Existing rules already covers the ethical concerns raised by Quora.  "There are indeed some obvious ethical questions around Quora that will leap out at any lawyer: 

  • By answering a question on Quora, am I providing legal advice? 
  • Have I formed a lawyer-client relationship, even inadvertently, with the questioner? 

"These are hugely important questions that bear on malpractice exposure and duties of confidentiality, among other issues.  And yet, creating a special rule for Quora would not make sense.

"If the ABA did create such a rule, it would have to be amended on an almost weekly basis. Rather than updating the Quora rule constantly, it would be much better to rely on the ABA and state bar associations' already-established general principles, and apply them to new situations as they arise.

"The case of Quora: another argument against heavy-handed regulation of lawyer activity on social media."

To see the full text of John's post "What Quora Proves About ABA Ethics Rules," please see http://bit.ly/hVPIh2   

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