The Risks of Social Media Use For Lawyers

Although many legal consulting companies advise law firms to make good use of free and accessible social media, such as Twitter, blogging, or social network sites. Some consider the practice to be more of a trap than trail to success.

Thomas J. Watson, senior vice president and director of communications at Wisconsin Lawyers Mutual Insurance Co., recently wrote an article for the Wisconsin Lawyer titled, “Lawyers and Social Media: What could possibly go wrong?

According to Watson, “Potential hazards include losing control over your message, blurring professional and personal use, expending too much time and money on managing social media use, creating unrealistic client expectations, and making false or misleading communications about a lawyer’s services, not to mention the possibility of violating the rules of professional conduct.”

His article is full of sound professional advice, including, don’t talk about or to clients over social media, beware of the marketing-related Rules of Professional Conduct when writing online, and don’t give legal advice over the Internet.

In some sense, it’s common sense.

Of course, it’s natural to keep aware of conflicts of interest and to not engage in the unauthorized practice of law. Still, something about the anonymity of digital makes people forget about these daily professional conduct rules.

Also, the more software and technology used by your firm, the more necessary tools for confidentiality and protection, like an excellent IT Department, becomes.

Employees at your firm should properly secure its wireless network; update its antivirus software and build a firewall; and remember to remove metadata or password protect-sensitive email attachments.

But, are these risks—inherent in any online activity—so severe that they outweigh the benefits of using social media?

“Is fashion attorney Staci Riordan, perhaps the fastest woman associate to make equity partner at Fox Rothschild, a century old national law firm, advertising with her heavy use of Facebook and Twitter?” questions Kevin O’Keefe in his article “Is all use of social media subject to legal ethics rules?” on his blog.

The question seems rhetorical. And O’Keefe, author of Real Lawyers Have Blogs, believes social media is not about advertising, rather, it’s about building a conversation of trust between lawyers and their clients.

“Riordan, like many shrewd lawyers who truly understand relationships and reputation aren’t built by having separate online identities, uses Twitter and Facebook to network and engage with business leaders, other lawyers, civic leaders, and friends. Riordan knows networking to nurture relationships and establish trust with others so as to build a strong word of mouth reputation is the stuff life is made of for lawyers looking to grow their business and become better lawyers,” he writes.

Ultimately—like any great rivalry—O’Keefe and Watson want the same thing.

Both men want to watch the industry of law regain some of the reputation of honor and integrity it has lost over the years. And, both are eager to influence and advance their struggling profession.

As lawyer jokes become commonplace and the information highway makes pro se (and in-house) representation all that more accessible to Americans, law firms are seeking new outlets and tools for survival.

Using social media to keep up with the times has its risks. But, so does not using it. Embrace innovation.

If your firm still has concerns, consider hiring a consultant to guide you into the 21st century instead of driving you astray.

 

-WB

 

C4CM offers an audio recording that explains: Social Media at Work: Bulletproof Policies that Minimize Legal and Financial Risks

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