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Jump In! The Social Media Waters are Not (that) Cold

There's been so much press about Facebook privacy of late that it makes even the average Joe consider hitting the "Deactivate" link. As an attorney or anyone related to the legal industry, you may feel a greater degree of responsibility regarding what you post and tweet. In fact, the responsibility factor may seem so daunting that you have decided to opt out of social media completely.

Working with attorneys for over five years now, I can safely say that law firms and the legal industry are (self-proclaimed) late bloomers when adapting to anything new and unfamiliar. While some firms have already instituted a social media policy, many others have chosen to stick their collective heads in the sand, hoping that social media will go away. Yet the growth of social media even outside of the legal industry proves that social media is in fact growing - and is here for the duration. In fact, in a 2009 LexisNexis Martindale Hubbell Networks for Counsel Survey comprised of attorneys showed that over 60% of respondents participate in social media, with attorneys aged 25 to 35 participating at rate of approximately 80%.

With such a unique opportunity to establish a presence in your field, connect with new clients and network with others in the legal industry, you don't want to pass up social media just based on fear. But when you are ready to come around and get your feet wet in the social media world, how can you as a legal professional protect yourself?

- Know your firm's social media policy. Just by nature of being part of the legal industry, your firm's social media policy will more than likely be more conservative - and more protective - and that's by design. It can also serve as a general guideline if you are a newbie to social media.

- Familiarize yourself with your state bar rules for advertising and solicitation. Certain nuances in your provided information, like calling yourself an expert a particular matter, field or issue, can be directly contrary to attorney advertising rules.

- Create a separate professional profile. Be very selective about the personal information you provide on your professional profile. On Facebook, consider creating a Facebook Page. Pages allow you and your audience to avoid the obligation of "friending" you, giving a level of privacy protection for both sides.

- Keep your clients' business off your page or profile and out of your tweets. In fact, resist posting or tweeting about any activity related to your client, period. If you want to share news about a settlement or trial resolved in favor of your client as a way to promote you or your firm, provide a link to a news source citing the case or a link to your firm's website if the news has been posted there.

- Stay current on legal news centered around social media. Several cases addressing gray areas in First Amendment violations and restriction of worker's rights are currently being resolved on a case by case basis. While some decisions have been fully enforced by a governing authority, others have been sent back for redress or review. It's important to keep abreast of these changes, even if they are lessons in "what not to do."

- As obvious as this one seems, it bears repeating: Avoid posting pictures of yourself or your colleagues in any activity that you wouldn't want your mother to see you taking part in. This goes for your personal profiles as well. Whether you are a solo practitioner, a small business owner or a paralegal at an Am Law 100 firm, your reputation is your brand equity.