You may not consider sending a “friend request” on Facebook to be a lie, but if you’re not actually friends with someone, it likely violates the professional conduct rules against dishonesty. It might also violate rules against contacting jurors or opposing parties represented by counsel.
The American Bar Association recently issued an opinion stating that lawyers should not contact jurors through social media. This opinion is in sync with other recent case law addressing lawyer misconduct known as “pretexting.”Indiana’s Rule of Professional Conduct 4.1 requires truthfulness in statements to others, including courts, opposing parties or counsel, and non-parties. Similarly, Rule 8.4(c) prohibits dishonest, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation. Friending a juror, a witness, or other non-party on Facebook violates these rules if the target is not actually your friend. And of course, because Rules 5.1 and 5.3 hold attorneys responsible for the conduct of their subordinate attorneys and staff, an attorney can’t ask a clerk or administrative staffer to engage in pretexting on her behalf.
In this era of social media and electronic communications, you should analogize communications via social media to an in-person visit or phone call: if you can’t do it face-to-face, you can’t do it online.