With the explosion of social media, attorneys now find themselves immersed in both its opportunities and risks. Attorney Francine Ward first reviews the term itself, and what “Social Media” encompasses, from Facebook and LinkedIn to chat rooms and discussion boards. She then discusses how State Bars and Courts across the country have begun to grapple with ethical issues which have begun to surface along with the increased use of social media. The landscape she paints is one in which nearly each jurisdiction has developed its own rules which can be in conflict with those of other states.
With the global reach of a website, Ms. Ward describes the risks of the unauthorized practice of law in multi-state jurisdictions under ABA Rule 5.5 and the ABA Commission on Ethics 20/20 Report, both of which are included as materials. She compares the rules regarding deceit in numerous states, and the penalties involved, with statutory references. She discusses what can or cannot be on a law firm website and provides a sample website disclaimer which can prevent inadvertent formation of attorney client relationships through false expectations of visitors. This course also presents numerous other issues that may not be obvious to many lawyers new to the world of social media. These include the inadvertent disclosure of confidential information in chat rooms and the risks of conflicts of interest with current clients, how some states (e.g., Florida, Indiana, Missouri) prohibit the use of testimonials about success, the risk of using words such as “specialized,” the requirements in some states (e.g., California) that lawyer websites be archived every two years and how to do so, all with abundant references to rules, opinions and cases in many states along with ABA opinions.
Social media is here to stay, and when successfully employed, it can be a powerful ally. Conversely, ominous ethical dilemmas lurk beneath the surface. Francine Ward’s program is invaluable in raising these issues and in providing guidance on how to utilize social media and avoid its pitfalls.