Ethical Tips for Lawyers Online: Part 2

As we discussed in 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.

Let’s continue the discussion with Facebook:

Courts and bar associations are grappling more and more frequently with lawyers and Facebook. Some general guidelines are emerging.

According to an Opinion of the Ohio Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline, a judge may be friends with a lawyer on a social networking site, even if the lawyer appears before the judge.

Other states have been less liberal. The Judicial Standards Commission of North Carolina reprimanded a judge for friending the attorney of a litigant and exchanging Facebook messages, some of them about the case. The Commission also pointed out that these communication run afoul of rules concerning ex parte communications.

With respect to attorneys “friending” opposing parties or witnesses, the San Diego County Bar Legal Ethics Committee has stated that a lawyer may not friend a represented party, and may not friend an unrepresented party without disclosing the purpose of the request.

The New York City Bar Association concurs, the grounds that such actions violate rules regarding dishonesty and misrepresentation.

With the incredible proliferation of social networking sites (Facebook alone has more than one billion users), there is no doubt that courts and bar associations will continue to grapple with how these technologies impact legal ethics. Stay tuned for Part 3, which will cover Twitter.