Nowadays, lawyers increasingly find that joining social networking websites can increase their exposure on the Internet, bring to them more clients and grow their professional networks. Though lawyers can benefit greatly from marketing their law practices or themselves through web-based social networking sites, careful lawyers should consider the significant risks before building a profile on an online networking site and communicating with other site users. Some of the apparent risks include:
Lawyer Advertising. Content on social web sites may constitute advertising legal services on the internet. Thus, in communicating about their services, lawyers must not misrepresent a material fact and is not otherwise misleading1. Accordingly, lawyers should be careful not to post client testimonials or case results that are not verifiable. Lawyers must likewise ensure that their direct communication with potential clients does not amount to improper client solicitation.
Confidentiality and Unintended Clients. Rules on client confidentiality may limit a lawyer from disclosing the identity of clients without proper authorization2. Lawyers must likewise be careful not to post client information on public networking site areas. Generally, lawyers should focus on supplying general information and be cautious about inadvertently creating an attorney-client relationship by giving advice or answering legal questions online.
Embarrassing Revelations. Stories continue to emerge of individuals securing jobs, only to have the job offer rescinded once the human resource department checked the MySpace or Facebook account of the candidate or read an offensive post on a blog authored by the candidate. Another recent news story, that of the “Facebooking Judge” in Texas who caught a lawyer lying about attending a funeral as reason for a continuance, should not only remind us that candor to courts is a foremost duty but that our lives can become like open books through use of social media. Moreover, off-the-clock activities such as posting blog commentary that may be antithetical to an employer’s set of values and the ideals of the legal profession may also threaten employment or worst yet one’s law license.
In sum, whether through improper advertising, breaches in confidentiality, or embarrassing revelations, conduct in social networking sites may result in an ethical violation or severe professional embarrassment. Lawyers should consider that their portrayal in online social networking sites reflects their character. Thus, there are substantial benefits to social networking that should make entrepreneurial, tech-savvy lawyers jump into social networking with both feet. Yet, lawyers must remember to be careful out there.