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How to avoid social media ethics traps in lawyer advertising

As use of social media by lawyers and clients continues to grow and as social media proliferates and become more technologically advanced, so too do the ethical issues facing lawyers

Social media platforms are becoming indispensable tools used by legal professionals these days. With the expansion of mobile technologies in the legal profession, social media platforms have drastically transformed the ways in which lawyers communicate. As use of social media by lawyers and clients continues to grow and as social media proliferates and become more technologically advanced, so too do the ethical issues facing lawyers.

The Commercial and Federal Litigation Section of the New York State Bar Association recently developed Social Media Ethics Guidelines to assist lawyers in understanding the ethical challenges of social media.  These guidelines, released March 18, provide to lawyers in one of the nation’s largest jurisdictions fresh advice about how to keep social media activities within the bounds of legal ethics rules. The guidelines provide insight into the latest thinking on how traditional rules of professional conduct apply in the rapidly expanding universe of social media.

Here are some of the social media guidelines you may want to follow in order to stay compliant in lawyer advertising:

Ethics Rules Apply When You Use Social Media to Promote Your Practice

Unless the social media accounts are being used for just personal purposes, the rules on lawyer advertising apply to attorneys’ social media communications. If an account is used both personally and professionally, the safe bet is to assume that it is subject to rules, the guidelines say.

Do Not Call Yourself a ‘Specialist’ Unless You Are One

The guidelines urge lawyers to be cautious about listing their practice areas under headings such as “Specialties” on profile templates unless they have received certification in that area. If the social media profile does not allow users to alter headings, the guidelines advise lawyers to list their practice areas in other sections of their profile.

Be Careful What Others Post on Your Sites

Although a lawyer may not be responsible for what others post on his or her social media, lawyers must use caution regarding ethics rules on attorney recommendations, according to the guidelines. Attorneys cannot get someone else to post advertising material on social media in an attempt to dodge restrictions on advertising. Lawyers must monitor comments on their blogs and social media sites for violations of rules on lawyer advertising.

Avoid Forming an Attorney-Client Relationship When Answering Questions

The troubles arise when a lawyer provides specific advice—an action that could form an attorney-client relationship. In addition to inadvertently taking on a client through social media interactions, lawyers must be careful about soliciting clients online in violation of ethics rules. However, if a potential client uses social to ask a lawyer to represent him or her, the attorney may respond privately and confidentially.

For more news on social media, check out these articles:

The reality of managing social media risk in business

Mitigate risk by deploying social media policies

Katherine Heigl sues Duane Reade over a tweet

Pharma companies still fail to embrace social media

Contributing Author

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Amanda Ciccatelli

Amanda G. Ciccatelli is a Contributing Writer for InsideCounsel, where she covers the patent litigation space. Amanda earned a B.A. in Communications and Journalism from...

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