Proceed with caution: It’s the No.1 rule for using social media
Social media has commanded an outsized role in our personal and professional lives this past year, and it is expanding to new platforms and interests. It can be a valuable tool and a source of great frustration.
It allows us to interact, create and share content, promote ourselves and our businesses, educate and inform, rate and review and offer our opinions and critiques.
Social media connects us with friends, family, peers, clients, and strangers from around town and around the world.
The line often may blur between our personal and professional lives.
Civility and professionalism must guide our use and interactions on these platforms as we do not abandon our professional obligations when we enter the digital world. Our oath of attorney pledges fairness, integrity, and civility in all written and oral communications, including social media in its many forms.
The Florida Bar provides specific guidance about social media in its published Professionalism Expectations. These guidelines originate in our ethical duties established by The Rules Regulating The Florida Bar and the customs of fair, civil, and honorable legal practice.
The Professionalism Expectations make clear that lawyers must not use their communications in connection with the practice of law, including on social media, to disparage another’s character or competence or to inappropriately influence or contact others.
The expectations plainly state that “social media must not be used to disparage opposing parties, lawyers, judges, and members of the public…or be used to inappropriately contact judges, mediators, jurors, witnesses, or represented parties…or be used for the purpose of influencing adjudicative proceedings.”
Lawyers must be careful to maintain the integrity of our profession. That includes not engaging in behaviors that undermine public confidence in or are prejudicial to the administration of justice.
Engagement on social media is an effective way for lawyers to build their brand and connect with new clients and referral sources.
However, The Florida Bar Best Practices for Professional Electronic Communication handbook cautions lawyers to avoid giving casual advice on social media, particularly in response to specific questions, to avoid inadvertently creating a lawyer-client relationship.
Social media should not be used to circumvent lawyer advertising rules. The rules apply to all forms of communication, including social networking and targeted social media posts. For instance, targeted social media posts are treated as unsolicited direct mail.
Lawyers must be thoughtful when responding to online reviews appearing on social media platforms.
The Florida Bar recently issued advisory Ethics Opinion 20-01 specifying how a lawyer may best respond to a negative client review.
The opinion concludes that, absent an exception to the confidentiality rules, lawyers should only respond generally that they disagree with the client’s statements or that the review is neither fair nor accurate.
The opinion also provides suggested language that lawyers may use to respond appropriately.
Conversely, the Best Practices handbook also cautions lawyers to remove posts from third parties that may be positive misrepresentations, offering the example to “not allow family members to praise your legal services on social media if they have not been a client.”