Use of social media in the substantive practice of law is already a trend and it is becoming the second skin of doing business. But at the same time, it can raise multiple questions such as can lawyers use social media and for what purposes?
Understanding Social Media
Whether we like it or not, social media has become a crucial part of our daily life. As a result, lawyers, too, have become trapped in its web and each day depending from what it offers to them. While some complain about the bad effect social media has on their professional lives, wise attorneys take advantage form it to develop their practices through the networking and marketing opportunities provided online.
Despite the benefits social media offers us, many associate its functions and role in our professional lives’ way to risky. A smart attitude in using it, doesn’t remove the ethical risks, evidence collection and marketing that come along with it. Therefore, a proper understanding and implementation of ethical behaviour is extremely important before we consider using social media for promotional or advertisement purposes.
Some of the most appealing services of the social media that could turn against us as professionals if used incorrectly, or misused are:
Attorney – Client confidentiality
The use of social media is related not just to the common interest of a lawyer to promote his work but also whether and how it may benefit or harm the client. It is thus important that whilst using social media for representation or other purposes, a lawyer stays within the “bounds of the law,’’
The Code of Conduct bonds us with the duty to maintain client confidences, the duty to provide competent representation and the duty to communicate with clients. Because social media communication often is public or semi-public, confidentiality of lawyer-client communication becomes an important concern for us as professionals. Protecting the confidentiality requires from us to understand and position ourselves on the side of our client. A lawyer therefore must consider reaching an agreement with his client regarding the attorney-client communication process, including whether social media can be used for such purpose.
Online Network and Marketing
If there is something very clear to all of us is the fact that social media can increase the potential for bringing in new clients. It is an easy to use mechanism that helps us gain more visibility, access information and connect to prospects and potential clients all around the world.
Social media sites include straight forward advertising and as a result it provides substantial opportunities for networking and connecting us to other likeminded professionals and build partnerships.
In fact, the last few years, we can see more and more legal practitioners, branding and marketing through the channels of social media. Providing information about their areas of interests, sharing day-to-day activities, responding to the posts of others, preparing online content, such as articles, videos and blogs – are just a few ways to connect with other professionals.
Moreover, sharing useful content and providing high quality information that informs users about the areas of law in which an attorney practice, providing a detailed analysis of a certain specific issue through a blog, are all great tools that provide us, lawyers with an online reputation. It gives us confidence and boosts our self-esteem as soon as we are acknowledging by a certain circle of targeted group that show interest in their work.
The risks of sharing too much
When we post on social media, we need to consider whether we are causing any ethical problems for ourselves and our clients. Given the open and rich nature of social media, several issues can arise when lawyers post.Two of the most important issues to focus on include: Is social media advertising and are you forming an attorney/client relationship by answering questions?If we share information from a private account, only with friends and family, chances are very good that our posts are not considered advertising.However, the question becomes cloudier when we open an account to a larger group. Because in some jurisdictions its clearer than others what advertising is and what comprises promotion of our work. As a result, the responsibility of evaluating the situation in each case, falls upon us.Another point we need to be aware of, regarding the nature of social media is the negative reviews, which might turn to become a serious problem if not handled accordingly. A negative review can be very harmful to a lawyer or a law firm. That said, no matter how negative the review, it is crucial that we, the lawyers, respond appropriately.
Most importantly, attorneys may not share confidential information about the client in a response to a negative review as it might be considered as engaging in misconduct. The best way to deal with a negative review or comment is to provide a polite response or no response at all.
There is no doubt that social media can become a serious minefield in terms of day-to-day practice and ethical requirement, even though the substantial benefits available in terms of evidence, research, marketing, and networking cannot be ignored or denied. And no matter if we, lawyers, embrace or condemn the presence of social media in our professional lives, one thing is certain. With the increasing impact and number or users, social media will continue to impact the legal profession in every imaginable way, and perhaps some unimaginable ways too. As a result, it is crucial, to embrace and be able to protect ourselves from its negative effects at the same time.
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