Five Ethical Guidelines for Lawyers on Social Media

Whether you’re a social media novice or a pro, you need to be aware of the ethical standards that lawyers are expected to meet … and not cross. These standards apply if you’re using social media as a marketing tool for your firm, of course, but can also apply to your own personal online activity. Navigating social media as an attorney can be tricky, but don’t let it scare you away – follow these five simple guidelines to ensure you’re using social media properly.

Treat your firm’s social profiles as advertising

The golden rule of lawyer social media ethics is “treat your social profiles as you would any other ad.” Just like your website is considered an advertisement, so are your Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter accounts. Avoid using promotional verbiage and follow the same guidelines across all online platforms. Although you may not think of a Facebook post as an advertisement, State Bar Associations sure do, and if you’re not up to date on the rules governing this area, you could find yourself in hot water.

Don’t make false statements

Many social media websites geared toward professionals (think LinkedIn) ask users to add their “specialties” or their “expertise” to their profiles. Most professionals don’t have to think twice about this, but lawyers need to be particularly careful about labeling themselves as experts. Several State Bar Associations, for example, have ruled that lawyers cannot call themselves specialists without literally being certified as a legal specialist. You may not always have control over the categories or labels that social media websites use to describe you, but when you do, consider leaving “expertise” sections blank or avoiding social media sites that include these categories.

Avoid improper solicitations

Social media marketing 101 says you should always include a “call to action” in your social media posts – something like “call me for a consultation.” But for lawyers it’s not so simple: statements like these may be considered solicitation. Any time you ask a potential client to contact you for legal advice, you risk veering into solicitation territory, even if it’s just a harmless tweet or a line at the end of a Facebook post. If you’re not sure if what you’re posting is a solicitation, it’s better to be on the safe side and rewrite it.

Keep confidential information private

It should go without saying that if you wouldn’t blab about a client in real life, you shouldn’t do it online either. It’s fine to post about case results, but never reference client names or any identifying details – stick to the facts only. You should also be cautious about geotagging posts or inadvertently sharing your location. Many social media platforms now automatically show your followers where you’re posting from, which might give too much away if you’re at a private location or out of town for a case, for example. Make sure to turn off automatic location sharing in your account settings.

Be careful who you friend

Friend requests aren’t always so friendly when you’re a lawyer. In general, it’s not a good idea to send friend requests to judges that you may appear before. Although public information on social media profiles is fair game in discovery, rules vary from state to state on whether lawyers can friend request people to gather evidence (check with your Bar Association on this one). You should also be cautious about friending anybody who you know is currently facing a legal issue or being represented by a lawyer — a friend request may be considered solicitation.

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