Today, lawyers who are increasingly social media-savvy are turning to Facebook to refer prospective clients, ask questions and discuss legal matters.
Towson family law attorney Stuart Axilbund has helped to cultivate the “Maryland Lawyers” Facebook group, which now has just under 2,900 members.
“It’s mostly legal questions and referrals,” Axilbund said. “People sometimes post, ‘Does anyone know of an attorney in Virginia who does personal injury?’ or (of) an expert in some other field, for example.”
Other posts have to do with various Maryland law policy changes, or difficulties with legal filing systems.
The group started in 2008 with very few members, Axilbund said, but membership shot up from 100 to 1,000 in one week in 2016 when he updated the group’s rules so members could invite other lawyers to join. (Previously the moderator had to issue invitations.)
“It’s a great resource because people are regularly checking Facebook,” Axilbund said. “If someone posted a request, everyone gets a notification. Then they can very quickly look at it and someone makes a referral.”
When referrals are made, potential clients are never named on Facebook, Axilbund said, explaining that lawyers typically exchange private messages to share a client’s name and contact information.
The private group site is reserved for Maryland lawyers, magistrates and judges, but Axilbund says he’s had to remove some who sneak in and aren’t actually lawyers or judges.
Given client confidentiality requirements, Axilbund says lawyers generally know what they can and cannot discuss online. There have been times when lawyer members complain about specific judges, something he said most lawyers don’t do publicly.
Axilbund goes through each request to join the group and checks the Maryland Court of Appeals website to make sure the person is a barred lawyer. He said it can be tricky to verify people’s identity, since many go by nicknames on Facebook.
While his gig as moderator of the Facebook group hasn’t expanded his client base, Axilbund said it has helped get his name out there in the legal community.
Axilbund said a particular challenge for the group came in 2016, when the presidential election prompted posts that leaned away from the law and toward politics — and to some intense arguments between lawyers supporting Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.
To settle matters, Axilbund — who says he’s a registered independent — created a separate page called “Maryland Lawyers – Politics and Law,” which serves as a place for attorneys to discuss legal matters as they relate to current political issues.
Axilbund says he had to poll the group at one point about allowing back-and-forth arguments on the page. A ban on those kinds of arguments was narrowly approved by the Facebook group’s members, he said.