Many lawyers are turning to social media and it’s not always clear what the rules are.
The State Bar Standing Committee on Professional Responsibility and Conduct issued a proposed ethics opinion on how California attorneys should conduct themselves when using social media.
Here’s the thing California lawyers need to know— Facebook advertising is subject to the same rules as more traditional forms of advertising.
This means that California Business and Professions Code applies to attorneys’ online advertising, as does Rule 1-400 of the State Bar’s Rules of Professional Conduct.
Under these rules, false and misleading advertising is not allowed.
Misleading advertising includes a variety of things, including the implication that a lawyer is a specialist in a particular area. The notion of legal specialization in California is restricted to those who are “Certified Specialists,” who need to go through additional examinations to benefit from that designation.
The proposed opinion lays out several scenarios that seem harmless. Actually, they seem to be the kind of statements made by most attorneys who have Facebook or Twitter accounts; seemingly innocent comments like:
- “Case finally over. Unanimous verdict! Celebrating tonight!”
- “Just published an article on wage and hour breaks. Let me know if you would like a copy.”
The key is for the attorney to determine whether the message or post counts as communication, under Rule 1-400.
In the first example, the Committee said that the statement was not “communication” since it was not a message or offer “concerning the availability for professional employment.”
The same goes for the second statement regarding the publication.
Of course, where an attorney posts “won a million dollar verdict. Tell your friends to check out my website,” the rules are different. The Committee writes that such a statement falls under “communication” and is subject to Rule 1-400.
The lesson here for California attorneys: When posting on Facebook, don’t blatantly advertise or convey any message of availability for employment.
You could be violating ethics rules.