The Indiana State Bar Association held its annual meeting last week. There was one session on social media and online networking.

I would never have noticed, but for the title of The Indiana Lawyer’s story as reported by Olvia Covington, “Social media create potential for ethical violations.” Rather than cover the benefits of social media — to lawyers and the public, via lawyers engaging the public — bar associations tend to focus on the perils of social media.

Though the Indiana presenters, Attorney Judy Woods and library manager, Howard Trivers, reportedly focused on ways legal professionals could get the most out of social media for research, the session, from Covington’s report, went on to warn of the perils of social media in general.

The perils, per Covington’s report:

  • Lawyers — especially those who frequently use social media — should heed an ABA opinion, concerning judges, to draw a line between their personal and professional online lives.
  • Legal professionals should become increasingly cautious when they log into various sites.
  • Attorneys should use caution when discussing their work online in that doing so can lead to ethical problems.
  • Social media posts can, at times, constitute legal advertising, which can get attorneys in ethical trouble.
  • Attorneys should list all states where they are admitted on every social media site they maintain so that they never give the impression that they are trying to solicit work in a state where they are not admitted.
  • Warned that even law firm employees who are not licensed attorneys can find themselves in violation of ethical standards based on their social media use.

Sure there’s truth in the above and other cases cited by Woods, but reading the warnings, I couldn’t help but wonder how regularly Woods and Trivers use Facebook, which 96% of the public uses, and Twitter, which leading lawyers, including in-house counsel, are using to engage other lawyers, the public, bloggers and the mainstream media.

The answer, unfortunately, is not that much, if at all.

This spring, I was speaking on an ABA section panel on social media with three other lawyers. None of the three blogged nor used Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn, other than as a resume and digital rolodex.

The outcome was a one hour session that would scare the heck out of any lawyer who didn’t know any better about social media. I tried, but I was outnumbered.

Sure, bar associations ought to highlight ethical risks associated with social media. But when doing so in presentations to lawyers, bar associations ought to have lawyers who regularly use social media in their professional life (becoming a better lawyer, business development, professional networking, engaging with the public) and personal life.

Only then would the professionals presenting have a context of the potential of social media and understand that the networking being done via the phone in a lawyer’s pocket or purse is the most powerful networking the world has seen.

Only then would the professionals and the bar associations appreciate the power of social media for lawyers to establish trust with the people and make legal information and legal services more accessible.

Trivers and Woods, from what I read, are extremely talented professionals. I have no axe to grind with them, nor should anyone else.

Legal professionals, and the public we serve, just deserve experienced professionals when it comes to counsel on something as important as social media.

 

  • My experience is exactly the same as yours, Kevin. Even in my firm, those tasked with developing our social media policy have no real social media presence.

    • It’s wild Eric. Somehow lawyers assume it’s okay to craft policy and lecture on best practices as to something they know absolutely nothing about. It’s driving a further wedge between lawyers and the public, something lawyers repeatedly give lip service to correcting.

      • Lawyers have always been self-important dinosaurs. I try to take solace in the fact that those “above” social media engagement leave more clients for me.

  • As I commented on that article (thanks for the heads up, Kevin): “Having been in the business of advising lawyers and legal marketers on how to use social and digital media for the past 7 years, and general legal marketing since 1997, I admire the caution that was shared at the annual meeting, but also recommend that lawyers not frighten themselves to the point of inactivity. There are many benefits to being active in social media, and the same ethical, business, and common sense that lawyers use when they are talking to people in public, or communicating via email, need to also follow them online. Lawyers are brilliant people, and with appropriate training and advice, can build a strong brand and following in social media that will benefit their practice. I have lived in Indiana the entire time I have been in legal marketing, and fully understand that our state has many ethical restrictions that other states don’t when it comes to lawyer marketing. But I also understand what can happen to a lawyer’s brand and practice when she or he steps out and utilizes all of the marketing and communication tools that are available.”

    • I wasn’t there, you have been Nancy, but I cannot imagine having lawyers and legal professionals advise on something they know little about. The lawyer who led the way doesn’t use Twitter or Facebook, yet she’s advising lawyers about the hazards of using social media. That’s crazy and frankly, ought to be an embarrassment to to the bar.
      I love Indiana, but at the same bar meeting, lawyers were resisting advancements by LegalZoom and Avvo, which will help lawyers get work, by telling lawyers the bar, like other states, can have an “improved online directory” which will get more consumers and small business people using lawyers. That’s out dated thinking, a waste of bar dues and a disservice to the people of Indiana who could benefit of the help of lawyers if the bar would get out of the way.