ILNews

Social media create potential for ethical violations

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

As social media continue to evolve, legal professionals should become increasingly cautious when they log in to various sites.

That’s according to Judy Woods, a partner with Benesch Friedlander Coplan & Aronoff LLP, Indianapolis, who gave a presentation Thursday about legal social media ethics during the Indiana State Bar Association's 2016 annual meeting. Woods and Howard Trivers, library manager at Bingham Greenebaum Doll LLP, focused their presentation on ways legal professionals can get the most research utility out of technology and social media while also avoiding ethical pitfalls.

Bar associations, disciplinary boards and courts across the country are constantly paying attention to the ethics of social media, Woods said, so attorneys and judges should, too. Although there are no specific rules that dictate how legal professionals should use social media, Woods said there are some guidelines that attorneys and judges should consider when logging on to their preferred social media site.

Woods pointed to the American Bar Association’s formal opinion 462, which deals with judges’ use of social media networking. In that opinion, the ABA urges judges to “maintain the dignity of judicial office at all times, and avoid both impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in their professional and personal lives.” In other words, Woods said the ABA is urging judges to draw a line between their personal and professional online lives.

While that suggestion is aimed at judges, Woods said attorneys – especially those who frequently use social media – should also take the advice to heart.

A recent Thomson Reuters study found that roughly 54 percent of consumers are more likely to hire an attorney whose work is actively chronicled on social media. However, Woods urged attorneys to use caution when discussing their work online, saying doing so can lead to ethical problems.

Social media posts can, at times, constitute legal advertising, which can get attorneys in ethical trouble, Woods said. For example, if a client posts an endorsement of or testimonial about an attorney, that post could lead the attorney into an ethical investigation for unlawful advertising, even if the post went up without the attorney’s knowledge, she said.

Most rules regarding appropriate attorney social media conduct are state-specific, Woods said, but she also pointed out that virtually every states has jurisdiction to punish attorneys for ethical violations, even in states where an attorney is not admitted to practice. To avoid running into an out-of-state disciplinary issue, Woods recommended that attorneys list all states where they are admitted on every social media site they maintain so that they never give the impression that they are trying to solicit work in a state where they are not admitted.

The Indianapolis attorney also cautioned her audience to ensure they know who they’re speaking with if they engage in online conversations. People can easily misrepresent themselves online, so attorneys who are unaware of whom they are speaking with online could find themselves in unintended attorney-client relationships and, thus, subject to additional ethical restrictions.

Even law firm employees who are not licensed attorneys can find themselves in violation of ethical standards based on their social media use, Woods said.

She pointed to the case of U.S. v. Bowen, 2013 WL 6531577 (E.D. La. Dec. 12, 2013), in which six different fraud cases in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina were declared mistrials after an employee with the U.S. Attorney’s Office frequently blogged about the trials.

The employee’s blogs, Facebook posts and tweets leaked information about the cases, including plea bargains, Woods said. The online posts also included rants against Louisiana police officers, accusing them of poor investigative work in the cases.

Conversely, citizen social media can also have an adverse effect on a trial through the widespread sharing of trial information, Woods said.

In the case of Jackson v. Deen, 959 F. Supp. 2d 1346 (2013), the Georgia case brought against Food Network star Paula Deen, the defendant’s lawyers attempted to disqualify the plaintiff’s counsel by digging up details about the attorney’s past and attaching those details to a motion to disqualify.

The plaintiff’s counsel moved for the record of the motion to disqualify to be sealed, but the court refused, saying the details in the motion had already been revealed through social media posts by the public.

Those cases, and several others, should each point attorneys, judges and other legal professionals to the same conclusion, Woods said – that their social media use, both professional and personal, should be carefully guarded to prevent unforeseen ethical violations.




 

ADVERTISEMENT

  • The Benefits of Social Media
    Having been in tbe business of advising lawyers and legal marketers on how to use social and digital media for the past 7 years, and general legal marketing since 1997, I admire the caution that was shared at the annual meeting, but also recommend that lawyers not frighten themselves to the point of inactivity. There are many benefits to being active in social media, and the same ethical, business, and common sense that lawyers use when they are talking to people in public, or communicating via email, need to also follow them online. Lawyers are brilliant people, and with appropriate training and advice, can build a strong brand and following in social media that will benefit their practice. I have lived in Indiana the entire time I have been in legal marketing, and fully understand that our state has many ethical restrictions that other states don't when it comes to lawyer marketing. But I also understand what can happen to a lawyer's brand and practice when she or he steps out and utilizes all of the marketing and communication tools that are available.

Post a comment to this story

COMMENTS POLICY
We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
 
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
 
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
 
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
 
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
 

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
ADVERTISEMENT
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. Employers should not have racially discriminating mind set. It has huge impact on the society what the big players do or don't do in the industry. Background check is conducted just to verify whether information provided by the prospective employee is correct or not. It doesn't have any direct combination with the rejection of the employees. If there is rejection, there should be something effective and full-proof things on the table that may keep the company or the people associated with it in jeopardy.

  2. Unlike the federal judge who refused to protect me, the Virginia State Bar gave me a hearing. After the hearing, the Virginia State Bar refused to discipline me. VSB said that attacking me with the court ADA coordinator had, " all the grace and charm of a drive-by shooting." One does wonder why the VSB was able to have a hearing and come to that conclusion, but the federal judge in Indiana slammed the door of the courthouse in my face.

  3. I agree. My husband has almost the exact same situation. Age states and all.

  4. Thanks Jim. We surprised ourselves with the first album, so we did a second one. We are releasing it 6/30/17 at the HiFi. The reviews so far are amazing! www.itsjustcraig.com Skope Mag: It’s Just Craig offers a warm intimacy with the tender folk of “Dark Corners”. Rather lovely in execution, It’s Just Craig opts for a full, rich sound. Quite ornate instrumentally, the songs unfurl with such grace and style. Everything about the album feels real and fully lived. By far the highlight of the album are the soft smooth reassuring vocals whose highly articulate lyrics have a dreamy quality to them. Stories emerge out of these small snapshots of reflective moments.... A wide variety of styles are utilized, with folk anchoring it but allowing for chamber pop, soundtrack work, and found electronics filtering their way into the mix. Without a word, It’s Just Craig sets the tone of the album with the warble of “Intro”. From there things get truly started with the hush of “Go”. Building up into a great structure, “Go” has a kindness to it. Organs glisten in the distance on the fragile textures of “Alone” whose light melody adds to the song’s gorgeousness. A wonderful bloom of color defines the spaciousness of “Captain”. Infectious grooves take hold on the otherworldly origins of “Goodnight” with precise drum work giving the song a jazzy feeling. Hazy to its very core is the tragedy of “Leaving Now”. By far the highlight of the album comes with the closing impassioned “Thirty-Nine” where many layers of sound work together possessing a poetic quality.

  5. Andrew, if what you report is true, then it certainly is newsworthy. If what you report is false, then it certainly is newsworthy. Any journalists reading along??? And that same Coordinator blew me up real good as well, even destroying evidence to get the ordered wetwork done. There is a story here, if any have the moxie to go for it. Search ADA here for just some of my experiences with the court's junk yard dog. https://www.scribd.com/document/299040062/Brown-ind-Bar-memo-Pet-cert Yep, drive by shootings. The lawyers of the Old Dominion got that right. Career executions lacking any real semblance of due process. It is the ISC way ... under the bad shepard's leadership ... and a compliant, silent, boot-licking fifth estate.

ADVERTISEMENT