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Though shalt not tweet to strangers… And other foolishness from the Florida Bar

January 18, 2012

Florida bar social media ethics commandments “The Standing Committee on Advertising [of the Florida Bar Association] has reviewed the networking media, and issues the following guidelines for lawyers using them.”

Whew, I was wondering when someone would get around to reviewing all of the social media and social networking sites on the Internet as well as review all the various methods of engagement and interaction that come with them.

A lot of lawyers like me were out here in the wilderness of social networking and social media relying solely on our common sense, good judgment, and existing ethics guidelines for guidance on how to ethically use the Internet today. What a foolhardy approach.

Now we have the all knowing wise men and women of the Florida Bar’s ‘Standing Committee on Advertising’ commanding as of January 10, 2012, that:

Invitations sent directly from a social media site via instant messaging to a third party to view or link to the lawyer’s page on an unsolicited basis are solicitations in violation of Rule 4-7.4(a), unless the recipient is the lawyer’s current client, former client, relative, or is another lawyer.

And commanding:

Pages of individual lawyers on social networking sites that are used solely for social purposes to maintain social contact with family and close friends [presumably Facebook], are not subject to the lawyer advertising rules.

And commanding

If access to a lawyer’s Twitter postings is restricted to the followers of the particular lawyer, the information posted there is information at the request of a prospective client and is not subject to the lawyer advertising rules…

Let’s get this straight. I am a lawyer using LinkedIn. I accept offers to connect from local business people. I get to know people via LinkedIn via Groups, Answers, and the like. I send a non lawyer an ‘InMail’ via LinkedIn, which includes by default a link to my LinkedIn page, asking to connect via LinkedIn and an offer to get together for lunch or coffee sometime and that’s solicitation.

And when using Linkedin, a professional network not used solely for social purposes to maintain social contact with family and close friends, I cannot say anything that’s deceptive or misleading, but on Facebook it’s okay?

And on Twitter, it’s all fair game as far as violating advertising rules so long as I’m misleading people on a Twitter account which I set so only my followers can see my Tweets.

This is the sort of nonsense bar associations get into when compelled to establish ethics rules pertaining to social media and social networking.

There are no ethics rules that apply specifically to 99% of a lawyer’s social activity. But when it comes to the Internet, bar associations throw common sense over board and come up with stuff like this.

Why don’t we have a rule that specifically applies to a lawyer introducing themselves to someone at a networking function and asking the person to have coffee sometime? Why don’t we have rules that specifically cover clipping out an article from a news journal and forwarding it to someone? Why don’t we have rules that specifically apply to birthday cards used mainly for social purposes?

Because lawyers on committees creating ethics rules understand those concepts and see how silly it would be to create ethics rules applying specifically to such activity.

But when it comes to something like the Internet, which many bar committee members don’t understand, they feel compelled to pass foolish rules to protect the public which understands more about the Internet than the bar committees. Go figure.

I look forward to getting down to Florida to have my picture taken next to the complete set of commandments on the two stone tablets.

Hat tip to Heather Morse.