The following is a twelve-part series that addresses the myriad of potential ethical conflicts for attorneys regarding their use of social media.
The social networking phenomenon has proliferated so invasively and exponentially into our modern global culture, that many have heralded it as a defining characteristic of the new millennium. From recently being credited with propelling the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street protests, to tracking global mood changes, the role of social media in global culture has grown beyond simply catching up with old flames or lost classmates.
The term “Social Networking” may be a bit of a misnomer, however, as these far-reaching electronic networks have expanded well beyond the social realm and become massively powerful business tools in their own right. Not only have existing social networking sites, like Facebook, adapted to benefit a user’s business and marketing connections, but new sites have emerged with the explicit purpose of networking business professionals and intra-industry professionals with no “social” component whatsoever. This series will detail why social networking is important to lawyers for both business networking and cultural relevance purposes. However, if attorneys are to participate in social networking without violating ethical rules, two changes must occur: First, the rules must be more uniformly enforced by State bar associations as to clarify exactly what online practices are prohibited; thus allowing attorneys to participate in social networking without fear of violating ethical rules. Second, existing rules (such as attorney advertising disclaimers) must be modified as to eliminate the effective preclusion of attorneys from certain social networking sites, while still affording the intended disclaimer protection to the public.
With nearly every modern industry embracing social networking in some capacity, the legal industry is following suit by developing its own set of lawyer-specific social networking sites – known as legal networking sites – like http://www.martindale.com/. By joining these legal networking sites, lawyers can find and network with other lawyers, access the latest legal insights/trends and even contribute and discuss legal issues with other lawyers in real-time. In-house GC’s at large companies and even large firms themselves (as entities) have their social networking outlets on the web via sites like http://www.legalonramp.com/.
Furthermore, recent statistics indicate that this trend is rapidly continuing its upward trajectory. A recent web analytics study from indicated that, although social networking usage has doubled overall since 2007, the rate of increase for users in the United States was over 25% in the past year alone. That translates into a staggering statistic: Social networking accounts for 1 out of every 6 minutes spent online in the U.S. The ABA’s 2010 Legal Technology Survey Report found that 56 percent of attorneys in private practice have a presence in an online social network – a dramatic increase from the 15 percent who participated in social networking in 2008. It is therefore apparent that independent legal professionals and the legal business market as a whole have embraced social networking as a business tool both directly (through legal networking sites) and indirectly (through the use of traditional social networking sites).