Monday, May 6, 2013

New ABA Opinion on Judge's Social Media Use

Social media continues to penetrate the legal world even deeper.  In fact, more and more judges are getting in on the action, requiring expansion of ethics and professional responsibility rules.  Some jurists, a la Posner, have been fully immersed in social networking for years.  But more and more are now taking the plunge.

In late February, the ABA Standing Committee on Ethics and Responsibility issued Formal Opinion 462 - Judge's Use of Electronic Social Networking Media.

The opinion notes "Social interactions of all kinds, including ESM [Electronic Social Media], can be beneficial to judges to prevent them from being thought of as isolated or out of touch." (Take note attorneys who still do not have a legal blog).

The points of caution are two-fold in the opinion: (1) Judges need to avoid anything that undermines (in truth or appearance) impartiality, independence, or integrity; (2) Judges must assume that all material produced online will be public (even beyond a circle of friends or contacts).

You know things are getting serious when judge's finally take the leap.  Takeaway: If you are an attorney who is still not investing in social media efforts, you're quickly getting left in antiquity.

Blogging & Social Media Rules for Attorneys
Of course attorneys have been immersed in the social media world for longer than most judges.  And as advocates for individual clients and perspectives, it is easier to envision a crucial role for legal blogs for barristers as compared to neutral judges.

Much has already been written about the intersection of professional responsibility rules and lawyer use of blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and more.  The truth, however, is that considering the huge role that online material and commentary plays for most firms, there have not been a mountain of problems.  Some attorneys are cautious by nature, but it is an exaggeration to believe that one has to handle online contact as if one was walking through a minefield.

Instead, the basic ethical rules can be met by following common sense protocols of honesty and fairness.

* Don't lie about anyone or anything.
* Don't go overboard with emotion in any post
* Don't accuse others of criminal activity.
* Don't engage in personal attacks.
* Don't pretend to represent any entity or governmental body.
* Don't guarantee any results for prospective clients.
* Don't violate any confidentiality agreements.

That is kind of it.  As a quick glance verifies, these rules should permeate all legal careers--both online and offline.

The social media landscape is still somewhat new in the grand scheme of the legal profession.  But those worried about investing more fully in resources like social media sites and legal blog writing should not hold off because of misconceptions about ethical and professional responsibility limits.  So long as common sense decency and honesty is following in the production of all material with the firm's name attached, things should be fine.

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