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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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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