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. @BryanJBrown, You are totally correct. I have no words, you nailed it.....

  2. You have not overstated the reality of the present situation. The government inquisitor in my case, who demanded that I, on the record, to choose between obedience to God's law or man's law, remains on the BLE, even an officer of the BLE, and was recently renewed in her contract for another four years. She has a long history in advancing LGBQT rights. http://www.realjock.com/article/1071 THINK WITH ME: What if a currently serving BLE officer or analogous court official (ie discplinary officer) asked an atheist to affirm the Existence, or demanded a transsexual to undergo a mental evaluation to probe his/her alleged mindcrime? That would end a career. The double standard is glaring, see the troubling question used to ban me for life from the Ind bar right here: https://www.scribd.com/doc/312841269/Thomas-More-Society-Amicus-Brown-v-Ind-Bd-of-Law-Examiners (see page 8 of 21) Again, what if I had been a homosexual rights activist before law school rather than a prolife activist? A gay rights activist after law school admitted to the SCOTUS and Kansas since 1996, without discipline? A homosexual rights activist who had argued before half the federal appellate courts in the country? I am pretty certain that had I been that LGBQT activist, and not a pro-life activist, my passing of the Indiana bar exam would have rendered me an Indiana attorney .... rather than forever banished. So yes, there is a glaring double standard. And some are even beyond the reach of constitutional and statutory protections. I was.

  3. Historically speaking pagans devalue children and worship animals. How close are we? Consider the ruling above plus today's tidbit from the politically correct high Court: http://indianacourts.us/times/2016/12/are-you-asking-the-right-questions-intimate-partner-violence-and-pet-abuse/

  4. The father is a convicted of spousal abuse. 2 restaining orders been put on him, never made any difference the whole time she was there. The time he choked the mother she dropped the baby the police were called. That was the only time he was taken away. The mother was suppose to have been notified when he was released no call was ever made. He made his way back, kicked the door open and terrified the mother. She ran down the hallway and locked herself and the baby in the bathroom called 911. The police came and said there was nothing they could do (the policeman was a old friend from highschool, good ole boy thing).They told her he could burn the place down as long as she wasn't in it.The mother got another resataining order, the judge told her if you were my daughter I would tell you to leave. So she did. He told her "If you ever leave me I will make your life hell, you don't know who your f!@#$%^ with". The fathers other 2 grown children from his 1st exwife havent spoke 1 word to him in almost 15yrs not 1 word.This is what will be a forsure nightmare for this little girl who is in the hands of pillar of the community. Totally corrupt system. Where I come from I would be in jail not only for that but non payment of child support. Unbelievably pitiful...

  5. dsm 5 indicates that a lot of kids with gender dysphoria grow out of it. so is it really a good idea to encourage gender reassignment? Perhaps that should wait for the age of majority. I don't question the compassionate motives of many of the trans-advocates, but I do question their wisdom. Likewise, they should not question the compassion of those whose potty policies differ. too often, any opposition to the official GLBT agenda is instantly denounced as "homophobia" etc.

ADVERTISEMENT