If you're looking for the latest
"buzz" about social media ethics and professional responsibility for lawyers
(and their employees), I highly recommend Jay Strother's article, Just Being Social,
published in the March/April edition of Legal Management, a publication of the Association of Legal Administrators.
In addition to offering an excellent primer on the issues, the article
highlights the responses of legal marketing leaders and attorneys who share
some terrific practical tips. This article would be of interest to anyone in
law firm management, marketing, and human resources, as well as lawyers
PDF " Just Being Social"
[Disclaimer: I am quoted throughout
Just Being Social | Article Excerpt
ABA ETHICS OPINION
As law firms' use of the Internet
evolves well into its second decade, websites' inherent pitfalls and
opportunities for legal organizations have crystallized. Late in 2010, the ABA
Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility addressed the
problems law firm administrators, marketers and ethics attorneys had already
wrestled. Formal Opinion 10-457 cites differences between Internet-based
business development and its non-electronic predecessors:
- immediacy of access
- direct interaction with legal providers
- depth of information available
Firm websites are much more than
ads. They can be educational tools. They can house very real information. The
opinion cites how problems can arise from website marketing and provides
guidelines for how to avoid these issues. (Read the complete opinion on
the ABA website. An additional resource is ABA's Ethic SEARCH division.
Search the ABA site for "Recent ethics opinion: Lawyer websites" by Peter
"I can't imagine why it took the ABA
so long to issue this opinion," [Ross] Fishman said. "The application
of old-media ethics rules to the Internet and new media tools has been
confounding law firm marketers for a long time. It allowed individual states to
create their own conflicting rules and created more confusion than necessary."
Indeed, some states are ahead of the
bar - and their guidelines are even more restrictive, said the director of
marketing and business development at Hunton & Williams in Washington,
D.C., Kim A. Perret. "There's a lot of
frustration right now and it is going to take some discussion to get the right
formula [for restrictions and policies]," said Perret, who is also a former
president of the Legal Marketing Association. "Prospective clients want to get
the information they need on the web, but protecting the firm from liability or
ethical breeches may keep that from happening." However, Perret thinks that -
especially for corporate firms - there exists a sophisticated level of firm
website user: They can discern among real information, marketing language and
But even if some states are more
restrictive of web-based marketing and information, those state bar
organizations may have the ability to more nimbly react to changes and new
media. Many of these entities already had clear website guidelines. Now they
are tackling the emerging tools that are causing legal administrators to fret:
Regardless of their opinions about
the timing and usefulness of the formal ABA Opinion, marketers and
administrators agree that websites create a lot of gray ethical boundaries -
and firms must be ready to address these issues. "This rule said to me that
firms have to take every precaution," said Navarre, who published the book Social.Lawyers:
Transforming Business Development. "There is interaction and immediacy
inherent in the web. Firm managers must ensure they are filtering the website
through layers of protection."
Websites themselves may be easier to
keep under control. The real issues come from the new technologies.
Practitioners are creating their own blogs. They are active on Twitter. They
have LinkedIn and Facebook accounts that reflect their employer and profession.
These media open up new challenges, ones that Navarre said require you to have
really honest lawyers who tell the firm how they are using these tools. "Social
media: That's where the line gets a little fuzzy," she said.
"When we interact online, are we
providing legal advice? When someone reads an article online there is a
disclaimer." But Twitter posts and blogs are independent of the firm's site.
Navarre's solution is to ensure that lawyers and staff know how to handle
requests that come in via these media.
Read more on the Virtual Marketing