The Ethics of Social Media, Pt. 3 [Slideshow]

Part 1: The Importance of Social Media to the Modern Law Practice
Part 2: Marketing Your Practice on Social Media
Part 3: Personal Use of Social Media
Part 4: Social Media in Discovery
Part 5: Social Media as a Research Tool
Part 6: Advise Your Clients Wisely! (June 12, 2014)

ethics of social mediaSocial media is an important tool for attorneys. Knowledge of its use is important when promoting your firm and advising your clients. However, one aspect of social media that too frequently gets ignored is an attorney’s personal use of social media.

We like to think that when we’re “off the clock” that what we say and do reflects only on us personally – and that it should have no direct impact on our professional lives. Unfortunately, that just isn’t the world we live in. Attorneys have to expect that whatever they post on social media will reflect on the attorney and the attorney’s firm. With that in mind, part 3 of my presentation, The Ethics of Social Media, discusses the personal use of social media by attorneys:

We tend to believe that when we’re “off the clock,” we are able to become entirely private citizens, and post to social media are unrelated to our professional lives. The reality is, unfortunately, quite different. Take, for example, the case of Pittsburgh attorney Steven Regan, which I discussed in detail in this article.

The situations that one must pay close attention to are numerous, and cover a wide variety of activities. Regardless of what platform you’re using, from Facebook to Twitter, YouTube to blogging, you need to remember that your posts will be subject to ethical scrutiny if someone decides to start looking.

  • Be careful that your posts are factually accurate and can’t be interpreted as advertising:
    • “Just won my trial, $5 million verdict!” vs. “Another $5 million verdict, my client, as always, is ecstatic”
    • Ethics committees usually differentiate between posts that are limited to a small social network vs those that are published to the public at large.
  • Don’t inadvertently create an attorney-client relationship!
  • Don’t endorse or recommend anyone based on anything other than your own personal experience.

The rules of social media really aren’t different from the rules you deal with every day. Whatever you post on social media, remember that whatever you post will be interpreted – by at least someone – as your opinion as a professional. If you don’t want your practice to be associated with certain opinions and positions, don’t post them on your personal social media feeds!