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Can LinkedIn Endorsements Violate Ethics Rules?

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on April 06, 2015 10:55 AM

LinkedIn endorsements are pretty easy to come by. People you've never met will rush to endorse your skills in the hope that you will do the same. On the professional's Facebook, an endorsement is the equivalent of a like or share -- easily gained and not of much weight.

Except, of course, if you're a lawyer. In which case, accepting unearned endorsements on LinkedIn may land you in ethical trouble.

The Ethics of LinkedIn Endorsements

For those not in the know, LinkedIn profiles, essentially the social media version of a resume, allow users to list skills they purport to have. These can be generic, like leadership, or super specific, like vinting medieval wines. These skills are listed prominently under the heading "Skills and Expertise."

Other users are allowed to endorse you for skills, virtually attesting to the tastiness of your grog or ability to take depositions. So what happens when someone who has never seen you practice now recommends your litigation skills?

Make Sure Your Skills and Expertise are Legit

Here's where the ethics concerns come in. Under the Model Rules of Professional Conduct, lawyers cannot make "false or misleading communications" about their service. Listing a skill can easily be taken as such a communication, as could allowing someone else to endorse you for it.

According to the California State Bar, both the Rules of Professional Conduct and the Business and Professions Code apply to lawyers' communications on social media. Under this broad interpretation, a lawyer's endorsements on LinkedIn could count as advertisements and thus "false, misleading or deceptive" advertising if the endorsements are inaccurate. The Golden State also has rules against lawyers claiming they are "certified specialists" without state certification. LinkedIn's skills and expertise section doesn't state that users are actually specialists in listed skills, but it could be walking a fine line.

Could your neighbor's assurance that you're skilled at arbitrations be material to future clients? Maybe, so it's up there, you ought to be skilled and the endorsement ought to be earned.

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