Social media can be a valuable tool for lawyers to demonstrate their expertise and attract new clients. But lawyers also face ethical issues that could land them in hot legal water if they break the rules. Here are four tips to help lawyers avoid ethics issues when using social media.
1. Social Media Profiles May be Viewed as Legal Advertising
In some states, social media profiles are treated as a legal advertisement and must adhere to lawyer advertising rules.
Depending on the state, you may be required to:
- Include the label “advertising material” or “attorney advertising” at the start and end of each message.
- Include the address of the firm’s principal office as well as the person responsible for the ad’s content.
- Include disclaimer language.
In Tennessee, the Board of Professional Responsibility treats LinkedIn profiles as advertisements. The Advertising Review Department of the State Bar of Texas, on the other hand, does not treat Facebook or LinkedIn profiles as advertisements and they do not have to be submitted for review.
It’s important to follow your state’s rules regarding the treatment of social media profiles.
2. LinkedIn “Recommendations” Should be Reviewed
In some states, lawyers are barred from using testimonials. Even when testimonials are allowed, there may be restrictions or the lawyer may have to include a disclaimer.
LinkedIn allows connections to write testimonials about lawyers in the recommendations section of their profiles.
To avoid ethics violations, it’s best to pre-screen each comment before posting it for public view. If testimonials are permitted, ensure that the feedback complies with disciplinary rules before approving it.
Additionally, lawyers should avoid giving a recommendation in exchange for receiving one. Lawyers are prohibited from giving anything of value in exchange for a recommendation.
3. Blogs May be Treated Differently Than a Website
State bars typically consider websites to be advertisements, but legal blogs may be treated differently.
The Advertising Review Department in Texas does not consider a blog to be an advertisement if it consists of educational information or commentary. Attorney Ronald Shapiro’s blog is a good example of a legal blog that offers educational information and commentary on immigration law. This particular attorney in based in Illinois, where the rules for blogging aren’t quite as clear-cut as those in Texas.
According to a post from the Illinois Bar Journal, “When lawyers avoid commercial speech and keep the discussion focused on the issues rather than on the quality of legal services that are provided, they are in a position to lead potential clients to a conclusion that they are authorities on the subject without having to declare that they’re the best.”
4. Always be Mindful of Solicitation Rules
The real-time nature of social media can make it a challenge for lawyers to adhere to ethics rules regarding solicitation.
If someone on Twitter tweets that she just got a DWI, a lawyer who specializes in DWI cases may be tempted to respond with a message to contact him or her. But because the person did not ask for the help of a lawyer or requisite prior relationship with the lawyer, that type of contact would violate ethics rules in many states.
If, however, a user asks for the help of a lawyer, such a tweet may be permitted in some states.
It can be a challenge to navigate social media as a lawyer without violating ethics rules. These tips are just a few ways lawyers may be able to avoid issues, but it’s important to have a thorough understanding of local rules and regulations.