Ethical Tips for Lawyers Online: Part 1

Lawyers are using online resources more than ever to generate business, communicate with clients and potential clients, interact with other lawyers and the public, and discuss their practice areas. Not all of them are behaving admirably—see John Browning’s list of unprofessional activities.

Courts and disciplinary authorities around the country are mostly trudging through this ethical swamp case by case, but some guidance is slowly emerging, now that courts and bar associations have examined tools such as Groupon, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Through a series of posts, we will take a look at some, though by no means all, of the relevant decisions.

Let’s start with LinkedIn:

LinkedIn may be the social media platform lawyers most frequently use. One lawyer has referred to LinkedIn as the “wild west” with respect to the adoption of ethical guidelines.

The New York State Bar Association’s Committee on Professional Ethics recently found that listing specialties on LinkedIn may create problems for lawyers under Rule 7.4. Unless a lawyer is a certified specialist in a field, the lawyer cannot list that practice area as a LinkedIn specialty.

The South Carolina State Supreme Court publicly reprimanded a lawyer for misrepresenting her skills and experience, stating that she was a “specialist” in spite of no such certification, and creating unjustified expectations about the results she could obtain. The court found violations of Rules 7.1, 7.2, and 7.4.

A review Board of the Illinois Disciplinary Authority recently recommended disbarment for an Illinois attorney, based in part on his failure to properly maintain accurate information on his LinkedIn profile.

Stay tuned for part 2, which will discuss Facebook.