Monday, May 02, 2011

Lawyers, Ethics and Social Media

I had the pleasure of presenting a Pennsylvania Bar Institute CLE on Legal Issues in Advertising with Jennifer Ellis (aka @JLE_JD) from Freedman Consulting in Lansdale, Pa., Paul McGinley and Jack Gross from Gross McGinley in Allentown, Pa., and Todd Denys from Porzio, Bromberg & Newman in Princeton, N.J.

Among the topics covered – all documented on Twitter with the hashtag #PBIADV – was the ethical issues related to lawyers engaging in social media and online advertising. Some of the materials from the program can be found online at http://www.pbi.org/resources/extras/course_extras.html.

Here are some of the key points from the Twitter stream and from my notes in 140 characters or less:

- Need to track your image online - try Google Alerts they are free.

- Lawyers need to be aware of rules of ethics - they apply to social media use and always apply to advertising.

- Solo lawyer in Virginia got in trouble for marketing as “and Associates” under ethics rules.

- Blogs are great way for lawyers to be thought leaders online - follow ethics rules.

- Lawyers need to watch what they say on social media; check out Paul Mirengoff news.

- LinkedIn is a great place for lawyers to start with building their social media presence.

- When creating a social media profile, use “lawyer” and “attorney” in your profile for SEO.

- LinkedIn recommendations are not permitted in Indiana for lawyers - considered unethical.

- Watch who you friend online as lawyers- see @Philabar Guidance Opinion 2009-02 relating to 3rd Party Witnesses.

- Facebook has approx. 650 million active users - great place to engage - be ethical.

- Rules of ethics apply to all online advertising including social media sites used by lawyers.

While lawyers continue to seek ways to grow their businesses, the American Bar Association’s Commission on Ethics 20/20 is examining advertising issues as they relate to:

- Online Social and Professional Networking Services (such at LinkedIn and Facebook): Identifying the Line Between Personal Communications and Lawyer Advertising; Inadvertent Lawyer-Client Relationships; Lawyers “Friending” Judges; and Gathering Information Through Networking Websites

- Blogging and Discussion Forums

- Paying for Online Advertising, Referrals, and Leads

- Lawyer Websites: False or Misleading Statements on Websites; Inadvertent Lawyer-Client Relationships; Giving Legal Advice; and Confidential Information on Websites

According to the ABA, "The commission is considering what, if any, guidance it should offer to lawyers who operate or participate in blogs, discussion boards, and other sites (like JD Supra) when their intent is, at least in part, to develop clients."

It is difficult to fathom the extent to which some governing committees are going to go to regulate legal marketing. Suffice it to say that it was only 33 years ago when commercial free speech for lawyers was first established in the landmark case of Bates v. State Bar of Arizona, 433 U.S. 350 (1977). At that time, a shingle on Main Street, a “calling card”, and showing up at religious services was enough to keep a law firm afloat, while “social media” was the conversation one had while walking her dog in the park.

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