The emergence of social media has made information accessible to people worldwide. As companies in various industries iron out plans to engage in social media, many in the legal field are left wondering: “How can this method of communication benefit me and my practice?”
I’ve read and had many discussions with experts, but at the end of the day, lawyers must protect themselves by ensuring they and their social networks follow guidelines put in place by their state bar.
Remember: This guide is not meant to replace your own research into your state’s rules and regulations.
Twitter has such open conversation and rapid interaction capability that a lawyer must keep in mind. In some states, prohibition only arises in the case of an accident or similar circumstance, where the potential client has not sought the lawyer’s advice.
Facebook can bring you referrals and clients by helping you to reconnect with old classmates, colleagues, and friends through direct contact both formal (messages) and informal (wall posts), events, and interest groups.
However, adhere to the basic principles of no solicitation to avoid running into murky ethical issues. Most likely you want to use the site for professional networking, marketing, recruiting, and branding.
A LinkedIn profile has a field for “specialties.” Unless you are certified as a specialist by a state bar accredited authority in your jurisdiction, you should leave it blank.
You can, however, demonstrate your knowledge and build relationships by answering questions in LinkedIn discussion groups that you join. There is not an Expert designation or “best answer” feature in the discussion groups.
If a lawyer’s YouTube video goes beyond strictly educational, informational or entertainment content, it constitutes advertising, subject to same rules that apply to television ads. In Texas, merely including an attorney’s contact information on a purely educational video, without soliciting contact, does not constitute advertisement.
Legal-specific social networks
Some states exempt advertisements in legal newspapers, legal directories and other media focused on or restricted to lawyers. So you may find openings in social networks that are specifically for lawyers, such as, The Texas Bar Circle, or MyLegal.com.
In Texas, blogs are not considered advertising as long as it contains informative information, and not solicitation. Blogs and websites are best used in the dissemination of information, and not in the solicitation of the reader.
Social media profiles might be subject to state bar advertising rules
Many states have special requirements for legal advertising, such as:
- A review filing, which may deem it necessary to include:
- Inclusion of mandatory information, such as the address of the principal office of the law firm and the name of the person responsible for the content of the ad;
- Labels such as “Attorney Advertising” or “Advertising Material” at the beginning and end of the message;
- Inclusion of specified disclaimer language; and
- Retention of copies of each advertisement for a specified period of time.
Using social media to build and enhance relationships and to engage in discussions about topics of interest can be distinguished from advertisement or solicitation.
The casual nature of social media can lure attorneys to unintentionally breach client confidentiality. In a tweet a lawyer wrote, “My client has not been truthful about his case.” Since the date and time of the tweet gets posted, it has the potential of revealing information.
Many lawyers find useful information about a litigation party or witness in their postings on social media. Due to privacy settings, sometimes valuable information would not be visible to the public in general, but would be visible to hundreds of “friends” of the target on Facebook or other media. Avoid the temptation to engage with people involved in a case you are attached to, and never seek or accept information through a social network.
Social media is a great way to enhance your profile and generate an audience that may have not known about your practice; however, it is important to empower yourself with knowledge about your state’s rules regarding its use. Not doing so can lead to hot water for you and your firm!
Kevin Collins is a San Antonio Criminal Defense Lawyer, former Prosecutor, and is Board Certified in Criminal Law and Juvenile Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and was also selected to Texas Monthly’s Texas Super Lawyers, 2009. For more information please visit www.sanantoniocriminallawyertx.com or call 210-598-8629.