Think before you post

A friend of mine mentioned recently that people generally either don’t use social media at all or use it as a replacement for traditional networking. (Actually, she will now be writing an article on that hypothesis for an upcoming issue of the MSBA YLS’s Advocate. Keep an eye out for that.)

That said, we’re all aware of social media as a “hot topic” for the year. Most of us use social media of some kind, for better or for worse. Most of us also wonder why and how to use social media. There are plenty of articles out there about how to conduct yourself online, how to develop relationships online and how to use social media in connection with litigation.

With all the excitement surrounding social media, it’s easy to forget about the dangers. To name a few, the Federal Trade Commission is starting to investigate bloggers who receive benefits for namedropping in their posts. Obviously, unscrupulous posts can put your reputation in question (it can also help you repair your reputation). There are security risks. And, yes, what you say online can still be used against you in a court of law (if it is properly authenticated, that is).

Despite those dangers, we seem to have become generally comfortable in this new way of communicating and are now focusing on how to most effectively exploit it.

What we lawyers cannot forget is that the rules of our profession still apply. For example, the American Bar Association’s Rules of Professional Conduct provide guidelines on advertising, providing information about legal services, maintaining confidentiality and communicating appropriately with opposing parties, whether they are represented or not.

And state bars are enforcing these ethical guidelines. A state court judge, for instance, was reprimanded for “friending” a lawyer” in a case he was presiding over.

In practice, it is even more complicated than you might think.

While social media provides us young attorneys with many great opportunities — to highlight risks and benefits of developing technologies for our colleagues and our clients; to network from the comfort of our couches; to maximize the reach of our marketing efforts—we cannot use social media now like some of us used to.

Now, we need to think before we friend someone, before we post, before we comment on someone else’s post and even before we “like” something. We must anticipate the unintended consequences of what we do and say online.

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