13 Areas Where Social Media Is Shaping the Legal Practice

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on May 02, 2016 1:00 PM

It's hard to overestimate the effects social media has had on our lives. Once upon a time, if you wanted to stay in touch with old friends, you had to give them a call -- or at least send them a holiday card. Now, you can simply like their Facebook status. Just a handful of years ago, if you wanted to show off your fancy lunch, you'd have to pull out your Polaroid camera and mail the photos to all your friends. Thankfully, Instagram has solved that problem.

But social media isn't just changing the way we connect to each other, it's having major impacts on how the law is practiced. In a recent post on Huffington Post, Brad Reid, Senior Scholar at the Dean Institute for Corporate Governance and Integrity at Lipscomb University, laid out the ABC's of how social media is impacting the law, from advertising to securities law. Here's a quick take on the list, plus one addition of our own.

1. Advertising

As Reid points out, there are few "precisely targeted social media standards" applicable to advertising online, but that doesn't mean that social media advertising is not subject to regulatory rules. If you're promoting a product on Facebook or Twitter, it's likely that the same regulations apply. And that goes for attorney advertising as well.

2. Antitrust Litigation

A discussion in the comments section of a blog could lead to price fixing, banter online might be taken as unlawful bid rigging. Careless language on social media, to the right audience, could raise serious antitrust concerns.

3. Attorney-Client Privilege Communications

The use of social media to communicate with clients could waive privilege, should a court find that the communication wasn't confidential. So, don't post litigation strategy on your clients' public walls and make sure to indicate that your communications are confidential and intended only for the designated recipient.

4. Bankruptcy and Debtor-Creditor Situations

A businessman facing a multi-million dollar judgment claims that he's absolutely broke. Then his son tweets about a recent trip to Europe. Social media is increasingly being used to identify assets and expose attempts to defraud creditors.

5. Criminal Law

There's pretty much no part of criminal law that hasn't been impacted by social media. Prosecutors use YouTube videos to help obtain convictions. Tweets and Facebook posts have become a major source of evidence. Even sexting between teenagers has become a significant criminal issue.

6. Defamation

Social media offers plenty of opportunity to commit libel, particularly in false reviews of products or services.

7. Divorce and Family Law

Once again, social media provides a major source of evidence in family law disputes, from revealing a spouse's use of the cheater's website Ashley Madison, to demonstrating fitness for custody and sometimes raising the risk of contact in violation of protective orders.

8. Employment Law

An employee posts a photo from his vacation -- taken when he was out on sick leave. Or, a manager punishes a worker for complaining about her pay online. The first instance demonstrates the role social media is playing as a source of evidence for H.R. professionals. The second, the potential complications that social media can when employers try to limit protected employee communication.

9. Intellectual Property

Social media makes it extremely easy to share content online -- whether or not that content is in violation of intellectual property law. At the same time, overzealous enforcement of IP rights can lead to huge backlashes from the Internet -- as when Universal Music Group went after a mother whose 29-second "dancing baby" video included some protected music in the background.

10. Personal Injury Litigation

Just as in criminal and family law, social media provides a wealth of evidence for personal injury litigation. Social media can go to show the extent of injuries, for example, or demonstrate intoxication and recklessness before an accident.

11. Securities Law

That tweet could contain illegal insider information. Indeed, the SEC has already prosecuted people for using Facebook and Twitter to violate securities law. But, social media has had another effect on securities law. New crowdfunding rules allow capital investment from everyday people for the first time ever.

12. Settlement Agreements

If a settlement contains a confidentiality or non-disparagement clause, an errant tweet could result in a violation, and potentially expensive sanctions.

Bonus 13: Lawyer Marketing

We couldn't let the list end without a nod to the ways social media has changed lawyer marketing. Today, attorneys can use websites, blogs, and social media accounts to reach potential clients who never would have heard of them in the past -- that is, so long as their marketing strategy is fine-tuned.

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