Social networking has thoroughly invaded the practice of law. If you don't tweet, have a Facebook account, or know what Pinterest is, you may be losing leads to your competitors. But as older attorneys dip their toes into social networking, they must be especially aware of the many ethical pitfalls that come with being connected.
The emphasis on ethical social networking is especially salient now as the American Bar Association (ABA) has focused its attention on the use of technology. The group has proposed several rule changes regarding the ethical use of technology.
Here are some guidelines to attorneys' ethical social networking, as compiled by Law Technology News:
- Remember that ethical rules apply to online behavior. Many individuals are emboldened to take on more aggressive and possibly riskier behavior online. You should remember that all the ethical rules that apply to your brick and mortar practice apply to your online presence as well.
- Keep client confidence. If you blog or keep updates on your website or Facebook account, you must keep confidential information confidential. Try to only report updates and brag about your successes after they become public information.
- Be aware of forming attorney-client relationships. There's a thin line between answering a question on an anonymous forum and creating a full-blown attorney-client relationship. Remember to use cautionary language and disclaimers when talking to anyone online.
- Online presence does not mean prohibited solicitation. While you generally can't target specific individuals online for legal services, you can maintain an online presence and tweet and engage in other activities without violating any ethical rules.
- Be aware of jurisdictions. Your online presence is national. But in most cases you are only licensed to practice in one particular state. You must be careful when handling questions from out of state visitors.
- Refer and recommend, but not for money. The same ethics rules for recommendations and referrals apply to the online world. You can endorse a colleague online, just don't do it for money.
- Don't mislead or lie. Again, the same rules that apply to your everyday practice apply to your online practice as well. Don't overstate your abilities and experience. Be as honest as you would in person.
Older attorneys should embrace technology and incorporate it into their practice. Social networking is not going away and these ethical social networking tips are a great way to get started.
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