Ethics Rules Should Not Prevent a Lawyer from being Active on Social Media

Reid Trautz, section of law practice management, american bar association, ABASocial media will result in new business, according to lawyer and blogger Reid Trautz. "But you have to put a full profile on LinkedIn. My tweets are on my LinkedIn page. When I write a blog post and it also shows up on LinkedIn. The idea is to write once and create many places where it can show up."

Trautz, of Washington, DC, is an advisor to lawyers who seek excellence in the practice by providing superior legal and customer service to their clients, while maintaining a balanced quality of life.  He spoke at the FirmFuture conference today in Boston.

However, there are several areas of ethical concerns lawyers face on social media. But none are so severe that they should prevent a lawyer from being active on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Ethical concerns include:

  • Confidentiality - when you "friend" a client, you are making the attorney-client relationship public, to which the client may object.
  • Communicating through network tools - "You don't want to put something on social media and think we're sending a private email. Use social media wisely for your marketing efforts, but don't use it a communications device with client," he said.
  • Over sharing client information. "If you had a great day in court and you want to write about it, you have to ask if the client wants it made public," he said. "Just ask the client, they may say 'it's fine.'" He recommended that law firms have policies in place about what can be posted.
  • Revealing firm proprietary information. "You can't post something false or misleading. You can't omit things, puff things -- and no solicitation," he said. He showed a tweet from a lawyer reading, "Need a divorce lawyer? 20% discount this week only. Immediate response to any direct message." Trautz said, "You wouldn't do that in person and you shouldn't do it online."

"We've been scared to death about ethics and social media," he said. "You're OK as long as you stay within what social networking is about: building connections -- not advertising. As long as we stay within the rules of conduct, we'll be fine. Whether we are quoted in a newspaper or we post a message on Facebook, the same rules apply."

A big concern is inadvertently creating an attorney-client relationship. However Trautz said that a few "outlier" cases have gained wide publicity, but "there's not a lot of ethics decision or case law out there about social media."

Regarding Avvo,  a lawyer rating service, Trauz said, "You get higher rankings if you answer questions that consumers post. This is where we have to be concerned about that relationship starting. If a person asks a substantive question, and the lawyers provides an answer, then a relationship may have formed. The key is to make sure that we're very clear that we're providing general information, not specific legal advice."

Trackbacks (0) Links to blogs that reference this article Trackback URL
Comments (1) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Mitch Jackson - December 1, 2011 5:22 PM

Very nice overview and interview with Reid. I think it really does come down to using common sense. If you wouldn't put it in a letter or say something to a reporter, then you darn well shouldn't post it on Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin or Google+

On the other hand, what a great tool to share info with clients and potential clients. What an outstanding resource to build new relationships and strengthen old ones. We're truly enjoying "touching" so many people so easily using social media. Best regards, Mitch

Post A Comment / Question Use this form to add a comment to this entry.

Remember personal info?