ETHICS OF SOCIAL MEDIA
The rise of social media has transformed advertising and marketing strategies in the legal field. Many lawyers and law firms have turned to social media to advertise their services, post job opportunities, and connect with other professionals. Platforms like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram allow attorneys to engage with a larger audience than ever before. According to the American Bar Association’s (ABA) 2019 Legal Technology Survey Report,1 eighty percent (80%) of U.S. lawyers have a social media presence, with LinkedIn being the most popular platform. Sixty-three percent (63%) of law firms reported using Facebook and twenty-four percent (24%) reported having a firm blog. Although social media is an undeniably powerful tool for businesses, lawyers need to be aware of the ethical requirements that come with its use. As more attorneys turn to social media to share their thoughts and attract business opportunities, it is critical to understand and adhere to the ethical guidelines that apply to online spaces.
In general, the obligations outlined by the professional responsibility rules and standards that govern attorney advertising apply to social media postings. However, on the internet, it is sometimes difficult to determine the line between a post and an advertisement. ABA Model Rule 7.3 describes that any communication that discusses an attorney’s services on any channel may be considered advertising, regardless of the platform. This rule also generally prohibits live, person-to-person solicitation in most situations where an attorney is aware that an individual requires legal advice. However, this rule excludes content that is geared towards the public, such as content presented via banners, billboards, or chatrooms, and other communications that can be easily disregarded. Determining what communications can be easily disregarded is a grey area, and the restriction varies from state to state. Therefore, it’s important for attorneys to know their state’s position on advertising ethics and what can be defined as live person-to-person contact.