NY Times misses boat on legal ethics versus lawyers online activity

By now, a lot of you have seen the New York Times’ national law reporter John Schwartz’s Sunday story entitled ‘A Legal Battle for Lawyers – Online Attitude vs. Rules of the Bar.’ What a disservice to the American lawyer and the public we serve.

With thousands of lawyers making a positive difference in other’s lives through the effective use of the Internet, Schwartz uses as the basis for his story isolated incidents where lawyers have run into trouble because of ill-advised blog posts.

  • Hot headed Florida lawyer, Sean Conway, ‘was steamed at a Fort Lauderdale judge, so he did what millions of angry people do these days: he blogged about her, saying she was an ‘Evil, Unfair Witch.’
  • Illinois lawyer, Kristine A. Peshek, ‘wrote posts to her blog in 2007 and 2008 that referred to one jurist as ‘Judge Clueless’ and thinly veiled the identities of clients and confidential details of a case, including statements like, ‘This stupid kid is taking the rap for his drug-dealing dirtbag of an older brother because ‘he’s no snitch.’ ‘
  • Frank R. Wilson, a lawyer in San Diego, caused a criminal conviction to be set aside and sent back to a lower court because of his blog postings as a juror.
  • A Texas lawyer, after getting a trial delayed because of a death in the family, caught the wrath of Judge Susan Criss of the Texas District Court in Galveston when he posted on his Facebook page about ‘One night drinking wine, another night drinking mojitos, another day motorbiking,’ during the week of the funeral.

So what do we have?

  • Tens of thousands of American lawyers blogging so as to share legal information with the public and accelerate the pace of legal discourse among the profession.
  • Probably hundreds of thousands of people in the legal industry (lawyers, law professors, law students, law librarians, legal marketing and communication professionals, knowledge management & other law firm administration folks) using Facebook to network with friends and peers.
  • Ten thousand or more legal professionals using Twitter so as to discover the people they’d like to get to know or know better.
  • Over 600,000 users of LinkedIn listing the ‘practice of law’ as their profession to network with peers, industry leaders, reporters, conference coordinators, clients, referral sources, and the the lke.

And a Sunday New York Times story highlighting the online stupidity of four lawyers with quotes from leading legal ethics professionals saying that when you, as a lawyer, behave like an idiot online, you can get into trouble.

Let’s not leave our common sense at the door when it comes to lawyers’ use of the Internet and online social media. Sure, the net and social media are new for lawyers. So was the telephone, the fax machine, cell phones and email. Despite some early hysteria about the dangers and legal ethics of those four, we’ve learned to adapt.

The cat is out of the bag on the legal profession’s use of the net and social media. The shouting of legal ethic’s issues by the ill informed is not going to put it back in the bag. And that’s a good thing for lawyers and the American public.

So when you hear of the very isolated examples of problems with lawyers’ use of the net, keep it in perspective. People, even good people, will do dumb things. But the good things achieved by lawyers through the use of the net and social media far outweigh the bad.

Trial lawyer turned legal tech entrepreneur, I am the founder and CEO of LexBlog, a legal blog community of over 30,000 blog publishers, worldwide. LexBlog’s publishing platform is used on a subscription basis by over 18,000 legal professionals, including the largest law firm in each India, China and the United States.

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