Social media and attorneys

March 5, 2012
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Social media can be great for advertising, but can be tricky for attorneys to navigate. In fact, the Indiana State Bar Association’s Legal Ethics Committee cautions attorneys against using certain social media.

The Legal Ethics Committee has just released an opinion finding it likely inappropriate for an attorney licensed in Indiana to advertise through a group coupon program, like Groupon.

The state bar suggests that attorneys conduct “rigorous research” before entering into such an advertising arrangement and employ private counsel to guide the attorney through the “dangers inherent” in such marketing.

The opinion comes shortly after the U.S. Chamber of Commerce found that some law firms are using social media and the web to market their product without being up front with the public.

The Institute for Legal Reform, founded by the Chamber of Commerce in the late 1990s, has released the report “The Plaintiffs’ Bar Goes Digital: An Analysis of the Digital Marketing Efforts of Plaintiffs’ Attorneys & Litigation Firms.” The report says that plaintiffs’ firms are spending a lot of money to create and maintain websites, Facebook pages, blogs, YouTube channels, and Twitter handles – often without clearly disclosing that the information is being provided by a law firm.

The report gave the example of searching online the term “cruise ship assault.” The top three results showed two clear law firm websites (a blog and website maintained by the same firm), and one that appeared to be a website devoted to people who have been victims of sex crimes on cruise ships. But that page is also affiliated with the same law firm as the first two results displayed, but one would have to dig a little further to discover that.

Excerpts from the report:

“When combined with the growing popularity of social media, the industry may be on the cusp of a new era of expansion. Social media offers new opportunities and innovative trial attorneys are taking advantage of the new tactics with varying levels of transparency, including marketing efforts disguised as non-legal websites. Additionally, some firms have been criticized by the Wikipedia community for attempting to incorporate content from law firm sponsored websites.”

“Whereas law firms have traditionally had to wait some time before developing a marketing strategy based on new developments or newly passed legislation, social media has allowed even the smallest law firms to seek an immediate competitive edge. Such a practice could reorganize keywords, switch regional markets, and change the target audience, pointing to a new blog post offering information and insights that clarify opportunities for potential clients. And it could all be done in a matter of minutes.”

“Most importantly, regardless of platform or innovation, more users will embrace social media, sharing their personal information, interacting with total strangers, and expressing interests in areas relevant to trial attorneys. The universe of potential plaintiffs will continue to expand, as will the financial resources that trial attorneys dedicate to online recruitment efforts.”

You can read the report online on the ILR’s website.

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