By Kevin O'Keefe

Lawyers scaring lawyers from using social media

20131027-211831.jpg Is a lawyer’s blogging and use of other social media akin to Danny Devito’s character in the Rainmaker soliciting hospital clients?

This from Virginia Attorney, Jonathan Frieden (@JonathanFrieden), writing on the ethical issues of LinkedIn endorsements and lawyers touting successes on their blogs.

The hypothetical of an attorney walking the halls of a hospital looking for business is no longer the concern but instead issues arise with more complicated issues of social media and blogging.

The Sun-Sentinel’s Marcia Heroux Pounds reports that Eugene Pettis, president of the Florida Bar, and Greg Coleman, president-elect and head of the technology committe, want to update the Bar’s ethics’ rules letting lawyers know what is proper and what is not as to social media. From Coleman:

LinkedIn’s “endorsement” feature may cross the ethics line if the lawyer is not board-certified as an “expert.” These technologies are changing so quickly, the Bar is having a hard time keeping up with the changes. We’re trying to figure out how to advise members.

All good lawyers, Friedmen, Pettis, and Coleman, I’m sure, but is this the message we need to send to lawyers — and the public as to lawyers’ use of social media.

I understand the one-click LinkedIn endorsement issue. Are lawyers touching the third rail of calling themselves an expert? But don’t the advantages of a lawyer’s use of LinkedIn far out way the the hazards?

How do lawyers, as a profession, look to business people when we’re all wigged out as to LinkedIn? Heck, law firms ought to be running to LinkedIn to see how they can use LinkedIn’s lawyer and company profiles as part of their firm’s websites. Business professionals are apt to trust LinkedIn far greater than a law firm website.

I asked a 73 year old Indiana lawyer how he would describe law blogging to another friend. His response, “The most innovative means of lawyers engaging clients and prospective clients that he had ever seen. A means of establishing trust.”

Shouldn’t lawyers and bar association leaders when called to address social media point out its value to lawyers and the public? Shouldn’t they be championing those things such as social media which establish public trust in lawyers? Shouldn’t they be encouraging lawyers who are struggling to bring in work to use social media to bring in work the old fashioned way? Via relationships and a word of mouth reputation.

I am not familiar with Pettis and Coleman’s personal use of blogging, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ when it comes to business development. If they’re using social media, personally (not as a firm), then they may be the right lawyers to look at the ethical implications of social media. If they’re not regular users of social media, then what the heck?

The impact of lawyers’ and bar associations’ singing the perils of social media is very real. Brian Moskowitz, a family law attorney, told Pounds that though he questions the Bar’s position on LinkedIn, he took down the endorsements part of his LinkedIn profile down out of fear of being sanctioned.

Boca Raton real estate lawyer Chad Silverman told Pounds that though LinkedIn is effective for networking, “Like all other rules from the Florida Bar, it’s not good for honest attorneys and businessmen but necessary for dishonest attorneys and businessmen.”

A trial lawyer at a conference last week was afraid to offer any information online for fear of it being found unethical by the bar and subjecting herself to liability.

Is this really what we want? Lawyers afraid of social media.

It’s what we’re going to get when lawyers and bar leaders warn of the perils of social media, as opposed to the benefits of social media for lawyers and for the public we serve.

Kevin O'Keefe
About the Author

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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