Legal Ethics in the Social Media Age

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As a licensed attorney, you are under strict obligations to comply with all ethics rules or risk sanctions by your state bar association. With this in mind, it is important to understand the ethical implications of your social media use. For example, you may not have been aware of the fact that social media profiles are considered websites and are categorized as advertisements by the American Bar Associations and by many state bars. This means that your social media use must comply with ethical rules regarding proper advertising. You also need to be aware of potential client solicitation violations or violating rules in different jurisdictions.

The potential pitfalls of social media use as an attorney can lead to serious consequences such as disbarment. Be aware of what to avoid, but continue to make use of social media. The benefits of effective social media use can grow your business in many ways.

Potential Ethical Conflicts in Social Media Use

The growth of social media sites in recent years has been incredible. There is Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and many more. Each one of these sites can be effectively used to market your law firm. There are also potentials for violating ethical rules when using them.

Different social media platforms may carry different potential ethical pitfalls. For example, on Facebook, a friend request sent to someone in need of legal services when you have no prior relationship may be considered solicitation. On LinkedIn, listing “Specialties” may violate ethics rules regarding claiming to be a “specialist” in an area of law. This is generally prohibited with the rare exception of board certified attorneys in some cases and in certain jurisdictions.

Client solicitation rules may vary between different jurisdictions, but most state bars consider this a serious offense. Be aware that your competitors may be monitoring your social media use as well and would be more than happy to report any potential ethics violation on your part to your state bar. When in doubt about your social media choices, always be cautious and avoid any gray areas created by the ethics rules.

Also, be aware that social media posts cannot be limited to one geographical area and, therefore, cannot be limited to one jurisdiction. What may be acceptable in one jurisdiction may be unacceptable in another. Ethical concerns can arise when communicating via social media because you potentially communicating across jurisdictions.

Benefits of Social Media

Be aware of these potential social media pitfalls, but continue using social media platforms to grow your business. Doing so has many benefits including:

  • Find out what people are talking about. Use social media to find out what kind of legal topics people are talking about and what ones are important on a broader scale. Make sure to update things like your website blog with articles discussing topics people are talking about. If people are talking about it, people are searching about it.
  • Professional development. Professional development is very much about making connections and building relationships. Social media is perfect for this! Foster existing relationships and grow potential business contacts. Talking to people you meet at marketing events about your social media presence is a great idea. If they are like other people, they already go on their social media accounts several times a day. Seeing your firm pop up in their news feed on a consistent basis will keep you fresh in their minds.
  • Brand your firm. Posting on social media can help build up your firm’s brand. What do you want people to think about your business and the people that work there? Also, social media is a great way to humanize your business and give it its own unique kind of personality. People want to work with people they like. A lawyer handles many personal and important issues. Your potential clients are looking for a lawyer they can talk to, one that is accessible, and one that is relatable. Use social media to let them know you deliver on all of these fronts.
  • Name recognition. Exposure on social media is a great way to get your law firm’s name out there. It improves your online visibility and enhances search engine optimization. Get people to start thinking about your law firm so, when they need the type of services you offer, your firm will immediately come to mind.

Discuss your social media presence with a marketing professional.

Melissa Thompson writes about a wide range of topics, always revealing interesting things we didn’t know before. She is a freelance producer for USA Today, and a contributor at Technorati. She lives in Utah with her 2 kids and husband. Melissa Thompson can be reached via LinkedIn or Twitter @melthompson88. Please follow and friend her on either site.