social media

Social Media in the Legal World

Social media has made its way into the marketing of almost every business. From Twitter to Facebook to LinkedIn, businesses and their employees are using these tools to promote themselves. With about 1 billion Facebook users, social media’s effect is undeniable. But with social media’s vast reach, how do businesses navigate this communication tool effectively? And specifically for law firms, when can social media platforms be harmful to their firm and their clients?

Why We’re Asking:

We want to understand how a law firm can market their firm on Facebook and Twitter without breaching any of the countless confidentiality agreements they regularly make. And on another note, we wonder if law firms use social media sites to compile evidence for their cases. Basically, we are very interested in how much social media is being utilized and regulated by lawyers, so we’re turning to our panel of attorneys to find out more.

So it’s time to weigh in:

How is social media finding its way into the legal world?

Do sites like Facebook, Myspace and Twitter offer lawyers access to new types of evidence?

Are there any other advantages or disadvantages that these sites offer lawyers and their clients?

We’re excited to hear back from our legal professionals. Check back later in the week to see what they have to say about social media!

Post your answers in the comment field below!

  • Charles R. Gallagher III, Esquire 10/22/12

    Social Media Marketing for Lawyers

    In much the same way that websites and email revolutionized legal marketing and the practice of law, social media has also changed the playing field. Three or four years ago, law firms were hesitant to hop in the social media bandwagon. Now large firms, mid sized firms and solo lawyers have turned to social media for marketing and networking. Our firm maintains accounts on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, FourSquare, YouTube, Flickr, Google +, Pinterest and a traditional blog. We have found them to be vital for both marketing and the quick dissemination of information. All of these sites aid your website rankings and drive traffic to your website.

    Do sites like Facebook, Myspace and Twitter offer lawyers access to new types of evidence?

    Absolutely, insurance companies, banks, collection agencies and attorneys have all begun to use social media to both get a “picture” of the client/adverse party and to test their honesty. If a party posts that they are working out at the gym, then it would be relevant to their disability claim. If a party cannot appear for deposition citing some schedule conflict, and then posts about a vacation day from work, then you have evidence of a lie. More importantly, you get a sense of the person you are dealing with by resolving many of your first deposition questions, by simply perusing their Facebook profile. You can find out date of birth, where born, education, employment, family and many other helpful facts.

    Are there any other advantages or disadvantages that these sites offer lawyers and their clients?

    Lawyers want to be careful not to actively advertise in any jurisdictions in which they are not licensed, in much the same way you want to impose a geographic limitation on your regular website. Lawyers also do not want to communicate with clients in a public forum (posting on a wall versus direct messages) which might risk the waiver of attorney client privilege. Also, lawyers want to be wary of local bar rules which might prohibit the advertisement of case outcomes or past results. On the upside, social media is a great way for attorneys to address relevant issues. It allows minimum cost and effort which may produce a significant dissemination of information to the masses. It also helps identify you with a particular practice area if you happen to frequently post about your area of practice.

  • Billy Apostolou 10/26/12

    How is social media finding its way into the legal world?

    This is an excellent way to advertise seminars, legal alerts and
    changing law. In Maryland, October 1st brought about over 50 new laws,
    social media helped get the “blurbs” out to our followers so they could
    be educated on the changes.

    We do monthly estate planning and long term care planning seminars.
    Reaching the public through social media really brings a good investment
    back in the form of attendees. LinkedIn is the best for this practice.

    Also, congratulating our clients and their places of business for awards
    won is an excellent use of social media platforms.

    Do sites like Facebook, Myspace and Twitter offer lawyers access
    to new types of evidence?

    No. We do not practice collecting evidence from social media. I am not
    an attorney, so I cannot really comment on this matter anyway, but it
    isn’t ethical per MD Rules and may not even be allowed into court.

  • Chad Burton 10/26/12

    How is social media finding its way into the legal world?

    Social media has made a clear inroad into the legal market. Lawyers are
    using social media in various ways more and more. Law firms are using these
    platforms to share internal developments, such as speaking engagements and
    community involvement, as well as sharing developments in the law with
    existing and potential clients. Social media is also used as a way to share
    other content from the firm, including their legal blogs.

    It seems that lawyers are using these platforms for individual branding as
    well. This comes in various forms, depending upon the practice area of the
    lawyer. Again, it is a good way to share expertise and to show the rest of
    the world that there is actually a person behind the legal services.

    Do sites like Facebook, Myspace and Twitter offer lawyers access
    to new types of evidence?

    People use social media often in an unfiltered manner. This provides
    endless evidence for litigation, whether it is a business dispute,
    employment matter, divorce proceeding or some form of an injury case. For
    example, with Facebook’s ability to have others tag you in photos that are
    exposed to other “friends,” a supposedly injured employee may show up on
    coworkers’ feeds on Facebook depicting a flag football game when they are
    supposed to be immobile.

    Further, the technology is developing quickly to help obtain this data for
    litigation. Platforms such as Nextpoint.com can
    help extract social media data for litigation.

    Are there any other advantages or disadvantages that these sites
    offer lawyers and their clients?

    If used right, social media can provide a low entry barrier marketing
    platforms for smaller firms that may not otherwise have a large marketing
    budget. Moreover, with the world at your fingertips, sharing expertise is
    easier than ever. Of course, the over sharing that is helpful for
    litigation (per the response above) also applies to lawyers. Lawyers risk
    violating confidentiality and ethical obligations if they share too much,
    including about their clients. A solid social media policy in a law firm
    can help prevent this over sharing and to keep client information
    confidential.

  • Bonnie Russell 10/26/12

    As long as attorneys don’t violate state laws governing advertising, which vary greatly state-by-state, and speaking generally, it’s fine.

    I’ve see some pretty lame marketing attempts on Linkedin and Twitter. Also, attorneys talking on cell phones about client matters on trains, planes or car pools violate their client’s confidentiality rights daily. As for evidence producing…see the Facebook section of http://www.familylawcourts.com

    Also see the Yelp section. Attorneys are my clients. But the above site is also my site…and my work helped send two, to jail.

  • Chad Cookler, Social Media Manager, Oppenheim Law 10/26/12

    Social media is perhaps the easiest and most cost effective way to build a law firm’s brand. And yes, law firms should have a brand, just like every other business. The ability to engage with a prospective client is hard to duplicate in other forums,
    which is why social media is so crucial. I advocate a healthy mix of both organic and paid traffic, a large budget is not required. Between our blog, social media accounts and websites, we average about 40,000 views a month and we are a smaller firm. And these are people that are seeking out our services or information, not just random people who aren’t listening to what we have to say.

    The way we use social media, and the way we avoid the client confidentiality issue, is we use social media to comment on issues that come up in our cases or that are crucial to the areas that we practice in. We don’t talk about our cases, except in general terms.
    But we drive a narrative that gives potential clients a much clearer picture of what our firm is about.

    My primary job is to take these issues, which can be complex and dry, and make them accessible and relevant. Our blog, Southfloridalawblog.com, came out of a failed attempt by our lead attorney to land a newspaper column, but it is even better, because we have complete control over the content, and it leads journalists to us. Sometimes reporters have even quoted it directly (which we absolutely encourage)

    The other thing that is social media gives our clients and former clients access to our firm, and that keeps them as clients and means they are much more likely to refer us, even years after we represent them, because we remain in their conscious.

  • Paul Veravanich 10/26/12

    Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are obvious ways for a firm to get its message out to current clients, prospective clients, and the public in general. They provide quick ways to provide updates on legal developments and can prove to be effective marketing tools (although, as with anything else in cyberspace, sometimes one wonders whether anyone’s listening).

    There are, however, potential pitfalls when firms and clients use social media. For clients in particular, there is a real danger of revealing information that will later prove damaging. For example, I always review an adverse party’s Facebook and Twitter feeds and often find posts that we later use in litigation. In one case, I found a post that directly contradicted the other side’s position that they had stopped infringing activity — presumably there was a disconnect between the marketing folks and the legal department. This resulted in a swift and favorable outcome for our client.

    As for firms, they should simply stick to updates on the law and other information that the general public may find useful, while avoiding pure marketing posts such as announcements touting recent victories. These latter posts often raise potential confidentiality or privilege issues depending on their specificity and should thus be avoided.

  • Shari Shore, Esq. 10/26/12

    Do sites like Facebook, Myspace and Twitter offer lawyers access to new types of evidence? Yes, they do and there is actually case law about social media evidence now. Social media sites particularly play a role in family law cases where there is often animosity between the parties and one person “posts” something inappropriate.

    Are there any other advantages or disadvantages that these sites offer lawyers and their clients? Yes, I think so. Social media sites offer lawyers an advantage because it’s another type of (mostly) free marketing that has a wide reach. Also, from the evidence perspective, it allows the attorney to see what type of public image someone is portraying and how, if at all, it affects their case. That being said, I also think that social media has downfalls for both attorneys and clients. Attorneys need to keep a mindful eye on their social media “persona” and make sure to separate work and play. Also, I can imagine that some clients may not be comfortable with the possibility that their attorney could see their public profile; nor would they be happy that some, if not all, of what they “post” can be used against them at court.

  • Debra L. Bruce 10/26/12

    I practiced law for 18 years before becoming a coach for lawyers, and I often recommend that my lawyer clients who desire more business develop a social media presence. One of my lawyer clients blogged about his success a couple of years ago at http://www.spinsucks.com/social-media/social-media-success-story/. Previous comments have already illustrated many of the ways that law firms can use social media to enhance relationships with existing clients and to generate new clients. So to avoid being redundant, I’ll provide some other information.

    I believe attorneys need to have a working knowledge of social media in order to effectively represent their clients, whether in litigation or in a business practice, because clients, or at least their employees, are actively using social media. A couple of years ago I blogged on our website about “Why Lawyers MUST Get Their Heads Out of the Sand about Social Media” and I’m surprised at how many lawyers still need that message.

    Many lawyers are uncomfortable with social media, in part because they hear so many stories about the trouble people get into on social media. It’s not hard to stay out of trouble if you just don’t say anything on social media that you don’t want to be read by grandma, your spouse, your kids, your best client, or your potential clients. Additionally, there are a few disciplinary rules to be aware of. I’ll mention ABA model rules, but attorneys should review their own state’s rules, paying particular attention to the advertising rules.

    1. ABA 7.3(a): “A lawyer shall not by in‑person, live telephone or real-time electronic contact solicit professional employment…” There are a number of exceptions to that rule, and they vary state by state. Lawyers may not realize that they are being unethical if they offer their services in response to a tweet or a Facebook post about getting a DUI or having a dispute with a landlord, etc. I have witnessed ethical violations like that on social media.

    2. Disguising your identity or getting an investigator or other person to do so in order to “friend” someone on Facebook or other social media networks would violate ABA rules 4.1, 5.3(c)(1), 8.4(c). Such “pretexting” involves fraud, deceit and misrepresentation. Ethical opinions on that topic have been issued by the Philadelphia Bar Association in 2009 and the New York State Bar in 2010 as well as the New York City Bar Association in 2010. Their opinions published on the internet provide a thorough discussion of the ethical issues and legal reasoning.

    3. It’s common on Facebook to offer an incentive for becoming a fan or “liking” a page or profile. ABA rule 7.2(b) provides “A lawyer shall not give anything of value to a person for recommending the lawyer’s services…” Some states have even more stringent language. The FTC also promulgated regulations requiring that if there’s a connection between the endorser and the marketer of a product or service that would affect how people evaluate the endorsement, it should be disclosed. The FTC has held public discussions about how such disclosures can be made on platforms like Twitter and Facebook, where there are limited characters or just a “Like” button.

    4. On LinkedIn, people who get voted as having provided the best answer to a question can be designated as an “expert.” Some states, such as Texas, have modified ABA rule 7.4 (which prohibits implying certification as a specialist unless properly board certified) to prohibit implying special competence unless board certified in the subject area. Lawyers in those states may want to avoid answering questions in the Answers section of LinkedIn.

    5. A number of states have prohibitions or restrictions respecting client testimonials for lawyers, which affect recommendations and ratings on LinkedIn, Yelp, AVVO, etc. The Virginia State Bar has gone so far as to suggest that lawyers may have a duty to monitor social medial to ascertain compliance with the bar rules respecting statements about them by their clients.
    is not intended to frighten lawyers away from social media. It is not difficult to stay compliant, as long as you are aware of your state’s ethical rules, which you are required to know anyway. The Virginia suggestion of a duty to monitor is a little scary, but it actually argues in favor of getting familiar with social media because that is necessary to do the required monitoring.

  • Shane Fischer 10/26/12

    How do businesses navigate this communication tool effectively?

    -There are businesses that market your law firm’s presence on the internet, creating tweets and linking your Facebook page to announcements of your firm in the media.

    And specifically for law firms, when can social media platforms be
    harmful to their firm and their clients?

    -They can be devastating for a personal injury lawyer’s client. My clients suffer injuries from an auto accident and have back/neck problems that are limiting but not debilitating. Unfortunately, photos of my client dancing, playing pick-up basketball, or on vacation get in the hands of the defendant’s insurance company and they feel that my client is lying. Trying to overcome that hurdle, my client and I explain to a jury that while they might still be able to go clubbing, play sports, or vacation, they can do so for less time, are in pain while doing it, and are limited in what they can do. Unfortunately, pictures are worth 1000 words, and it’s hard to overcome a photo of someone having a good time after an accident while claiming they deserve money.

    How can a law firm market their firm on Facebook and Twitter without breaching any of the countless confidentiality agreements they regularly make?

    -They can do this provided they talk in general terms, without mentioning names or specific cases. Additionally, if there’s a confidentiality agreement in place the firm might not be able to mention it at all.

    How is social media finding its way into the legal world?

    -see above for personal injury cases. Additionally, in criminal cases a lawyer may get a Facebook post of someone involved in a criminal case where they say, for example, that they are not afraid of X even though X threatened them. At trial, if that witness says they’re afraid of X, the defense lawyer can use the witnesses’ Facebook post against them as impeachment.

    Are there any other advantages or disadvantages that these sites offer lawyers and their clients?

    -Arguably the proliferation of social media and the noise that it creates makes relationships and referrals even more important than ever before. With so much information at one’s disposal, it’s easy for a potential client to get confused and not know where to turn to when they need a legal problem resolved. As a result, they’ll get frustrated and ask friends/family for a referral.

  • Calvin House 10/26/12

    Social media for us right now, Facebook can be helpful in (1)
    keeping current clients engaged by providing a steady flow of information,
    and (2) reach out to potential clients by showing expertise and experience.

    It is not harmful so long as you keep in mind that what you write is
    available to the whole world. There is no need to disclose confidential
    material in order to market. Just stick to publicly available information.
    For example, we report our court wins (you can see them on our Facebook
    timeline) with publicly filed documents.

    In all of our cases, we check social media for information about the
    plaintiffs who are suing our clients, and on several occasions found
    information that was damaging to the plaintiffs’ cases.

  • Darin Klemchuk 10/29/12

    How is social media finding its way into the legal world?

    · It is opening new avenues for lawyers to communicate and engage with clients as well as market their services. Social media, due to its proclivity to collect and retain information, presents a number of privacy issues unique to lawyer-client relationships, like whether communications remain protected.

    – Do sites like Facebook, Myspace and Twitter offer lawyers access to new types of evidence?

    · Most definitely. Lawyers can monitor the actions of opposing counsel, who unwittingly post to social media in a way that discusses or discloses their actions — eg, Facebooking a trip while embroiled in a dispute about extending deadlines for example. These sites also present a treasure trove of potential evidence to research potential jurors, witnesses, opposing parties, and opposing counsel.

    – Are there any other advantages or disadvantages that these sites offer lawyers and their clients?

    · Accidentally contacting jurors and witnesses via social media happens and presents a number of interesting legal issues, some of which are bad for lawyers and their clients. Another issues is when a communication occurs between a represented party and opposing counsel. Or, when a judge attempts to friend counsel. Technology moves at a faster pace than the law in this area.

    – But with social media’s vast reach, how do businesses navigate this communication tool effectively?

    · Social media presents a number of risks to companies. For example, one devastating area is when an employee accidentally discloses confidential information via social media. This can occur innocently, and unfortunately for companies, this bell cannot be un-rung in most cases. Other areas of risk are FTC, deceptive trade practices, and false advertising claims that arise due to employee and company posts about products and services. A good social media policy coupled with training are excellent tools to lessen these risks.

    – When can social media platforms by harmful to a law firm and their clients?

    · See above. The retention nature of social media information and communications coupled with the possibly non-confidential status, presents numerous risks to a law firm and client. The ability to make what seems like innocuous posts that turn out to be harmful is another.

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