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There is little doubt that there are benefits aplenty for the savvy lawyer/law firm who engages with and carefully exploits social media. In short, social media offers cheap and extensive marketing opportunities and as such is a formidable commercial tool. Also social media is an excellent forum for communication with clients and potential clients. Furthermore, social media provides facilities for engaging in professional debate and accessing global and up-to-date legal resources. Additionally, adroit use of social media offers wide legal networking opportunities and a platform from which to raise one’s professional profile. The choice of social media sites is wide: for the purpose of this article the three most pertinent are Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Judicious choice of site will be a first do or don’t for the prudent lawyer. From the outset, the modern lawyer/law firm must be aware that use of social media carries potential risks, as well as the aforementioned benefits. An initial risk is that participation in social media can blur the distinction between professional and personal identity. Social media is public by its definition; its contents may well prove to be permanent. Given that such content can be also pernicious and pervasive, it can be a dangerous tool.
Set out below are some basic do’s and don’ts, many of them based on common sense as much as any legal tenets.
- Firstly, lawyers should appreciate that professional conduct rules apply to their conduct online. These are clearly set out in the SRA Code of Conduct 2011, which includes a section on the use of social media. This highlights the aspects of a solicitor’s conduct that are most likely to be prejudiced when using social media, and these are integrity, independence and trust. The solicitor-client relationship is a fragile one. Being contacts of friends on sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter could easily breach rules governing confidentiality and disclosure. Posting comments and opinions could cause conflict of interest and damage trust and confidence, leading to disputes over defamation and privacy issues. The best advice here is to read the SRA guidelines carefully and to follow them exactly.
- There are some fundamental, practical common sense rules that are to be followed when using any social media. These include using safe passwords, remembering to log out, having good back up systems, protecting and safe filing of client information and investing in good security systems that are anti-viral.
- Another essential safeguard for the law firm or lawyer planning to use social media, is to plan that use carefully. Initial questions to be asked include, what are the practice’s legal and commercial objectives? Who will direct and manage the social media operations? (The advice here is to have strong professional direction, both external and in-house.) Policies about use, and penalties for misuse, of social media should be clear and communicated to all staff.
- Where legal blogs are to be set up, access routes to them will be crucial. Lawyers writing such blogs should be careful to protect client’s and colleague’s confidentiality. Naming of clients and cases should be avoided. Content should be topical and informative. Care should be taken to make clear disclaimers that legal advice is not being offered, only personal opinions and interpretations. Most will be written in the personal voice (I) to make this clear. To provoke debate and a wide following they may need to be controversial as well as topical.
- The best overall advice is to be professional and do everything to ensure high standards. These standards will extend to accuracy of information, spelling and grammar. Politeness, respect and courtesy should be maintained at all times. Avoidance of personal criticisms, sarcasm and inflammatory statements is the rule. Ill-thought, knee-jerk and emotive statements could lead to further claims. So use social media cautiously and responsibly and minimise the risks.
These are just the antithesis of the do’s, so are much shorter, and all are best avoided.
- Don’t breach any of the SRA on professional conduct.
- Don’t do anything that would jeopardise client confidentiality and client care.
- Don’t breach rules on disclosure.
- Don’t befriend clients on social media sites.
- Don’t talk to or about clients cases.
- Don’t breach any marketing-related rules on professional conduct.
Don’t give legal advice on social media sites.
- Don’t use social media if you haven’t considered the potential risks and pitfalls. Not only could it be professionally damaging, it will also be time-consuming. Finally, remember, bad publicity is worse than no publicity.
- Do not put anything on social media if there is anyone, anywhere, anytime (the future can be a very long time) who you would not want to see it.
- Don’t say anything you might be ashamed of, or later regret.
This article was written on behalf of Vannin Capital. Visit the site today to learn about Litigation Funding uk.