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Lawyers are ill served by those preaching the pitfalls and perils of social media

Bench & Bar of Minnesota, the official publication of the Minnesota State Bar Association, joined the forces of lawyers, conferences, publications, and associations who are scaring lawyers from using social media. Perhaps not on purpose, but by emphasizing the risks of a lawyer using social media over the rewards they’re having that effect.

Look at the article published today in Bench and Bar of Minnesota entitled ‘Social Media for Lawyers.’

Sounds good. I’m a Minnesota lawyer looking to learn more about blogs, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. Starting off the article tells me about the popularity of exactly these forms of social media. Even tells me that social media can be a resource for learning information and demonstrating my expertise in a particular area of law. Can’t wait to read.

What do I get? Red flashing lights in the form the of risks in using social media.

  • Inadvertent Attorney-Client Relationships
  • Confidentiality
  • Conflicts of Interest
  • Communications and Advertising
  • Unauthorized Practice of Law
  • Improper Contact and Misconduct
  • Duty of Candor

Certainly those are legitimate questions and concerns. No sane lawyer is looking to create liability or act unethically in their professional and client development activities.

And no one, especially me, is saying the Internet is an ‘ethics free zone’ for lawyers. Client and professional development requires that we act ethically as lawyers whether networking at a conference at a golf resort or networking on LinkedIn.

Abigail Crouse and Michael Flom, both principals of Gray Plant Mooty, an excellent law firm based in Minneapolis, wrote the article. Gray Plant already blogs and is considering expanding its social media presence.

I’m sure Flom and Crouse did not intend to scare fellow Minnesota lawyers from blogging or using social media. I also don’t know what the editor charged with this story told the authors. It may have been to do an article on the risks of social media. Crouse has expertise in employment law and Flom is extensively involved in legal ethics and lawyers’ professional responsibility.

But if I’m young solo practitioner doing family law in Marshall, I’m thinking twice about starting a family law blog after I read this article. A blog that was going to be dedicated to serving the people of Southwest Minnesota struggling with divorce, support, and custody issues. A blog that would connect me with leading family lawyers in the Twin Cities and nationally for mentoring and professional growth.

From speaking on blogging and social media around the country, I sense that lawyers have a keen desire to learn how they can leverage the power of social media. For client development and for professional growth.

There will always be a lawyer or two in the audience who grills me on the perils of social media. Rather than dismiss the ethical issues and liability risks, I explain how lawyers use social media in an ethically permissible fashion. How lawyers conduct themselves in a manner that does not risk undue liability.

I also explain that the situations where lawyers have gotten into trouble using social media are very few and very far between. That though lawyers may hear of the sensational, it’s the sensational that makes for good news – and that the sensational is the exception not the rule.

As an editor, conference coordinators, author, or speaker, you’re highly influential. Please temper your discussion on the risks of social media. Sure talk risks. But the rewards to lawyers using social media are so great. Mention them.

  • In social media lawyers are looking at an opportunity to listen to and engage people in a real and transparent way.
  • The legal profession has an opportunity to improve its awful reputation. Rather than bar associations talking of improving our reputation and doing a ‘law day’ a year at the local mall, we could have local lawyers with practical expertise on all sorts of areas of law sharing their insight and answering common questions on topic-centric blogs.
  • Lawyers with limited marketing budgets could get work the old fashioned way. By networking. By building relationships. And by building a reputation as a trusted and reliable authority. Sure beats thinking you have to compete with 1-800-Injurylaw pasted on the side of a metro bus.
  • Lawyers can use social media and social networking to connect with leading lawyers in their area of the law – no matter where those lawyers are located. They’ll be given the opportunity to network with and learn from lawyers they could have only dreamed of meeting.
  • Lawyers could go after the type of work they really want to do – the stuff they have a passion for – and do it for the type of clients they want to serve. Beats feeling trapped doing what’s needed to be done, like it or not, to keep the wolves away from the door.

No more ‘pitfalls and perils’ articles and presentations. Let’s talk about what’s really going on. Let’s recognize the risks while emphasizing the rewards.

Do that and we’ll improve the lives of lawyers.