Posts Tagged ‘attorney ethics’

When Is Your Office Really Your Home?

May 19, 2011

An interesting post from My Law License, wondering about attorneys working out of their homes but  renting an office where they have their phone answered and mail received.  If they have a photo of their “office building” on their website, are they misleading clients and potential clients?  In California, there is the B&P code 6158 which states that electronic advertising as a whole can’t be misleading.  But really is there a significant different between placing your office address on the website and the building in terms of misleading potential clients?  I don’t think so but it’s an interesting question.

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Scaring Lawyers Over Social Networking

May 9, 2011

This post on lawyer’s use of social media does a good job of explaining how social media works in terms of content and distribution.  The author works in Canada which may explain why there is no discussion of the advertising or legal ethics.  However one of the comments proceeds to address the issue of attorney ethics and social media but does so in a way to “scare” attorneys.  Here is a taste of the comment:

The rules that govern lawyers are still too murky and not for the faint of heart.

Actually, the rules that govern lawyers in social media are the same as govern attorneys in traditional media.  Its not the rules that are murky its the application of social media to the rules.  One of the points the commenter makes is that “friend” another attorney can result in “censure.”  The commenter links to this article which discusses Florida’s rule that prohibits a judge from friending an attorney.  A few other states also have rules regarding a judge friending an attorney.  To take the situation where a judge can’t “friend” an attorney and state that the rule is about any attorney “friending” another attorney is a classic case of scare tactics – distorting and amplifying a fact until it becomes untrue.

While its true that its unclear how attorney ethics rules apply to social media in many circumstances, that doesn’t mean that the scariest scenario will apply.  Ethics rules are safeguards for clients and consumers not draconian restrictions on how attorneys can engage in the world.  The more attorneys adopt social media, the easier it will be to determine how ethics rule should apply.

Must Bar Regs on Client Reviews Change?

April 8, 2011

This is a useful podcast about the regulation of attorney review websites.  A portion of the interview is focused on U.S. News Report rankings of law firms which is less pertinent to solos and small firms but the section on how to look at client testimonials was quite helpful.

Here is my summary:

If a client honestly provides an attorney review on a site such as Avvo or Yelp, the question is whether the attorney is responsible under their governing state bar rules for that “testimonial?”  The panelists argued that if the site allows “clients” to independently submit review then the attorneys can’t be held responsible for the content.  Interestingly, they cite the “Communications Decency Act” which states that ISPs and “Internet Users” can’t be held responsible for third party content.  If a state bar disciplines an attorney for client postings on Yelp or Avvo, the attorney will have a ready-made defense.  However, for LinkedIn where the profile owner has the final approval of posting a recommendation, I don’t think the law applies as that ability to approve the content muddies the waters of whether it is truly third party content.

Online or not: don’t misrepresent yourself

May 21, 2010

Yesterday I presented to Alameda County attorneys about the ethics of social networking and one of my basic points stated so frequently in  the codes that govern attorney advertising rules for the state of California is don’t provide false, misleading or deceptive information about yourself. 

This seems so obvious and then I hear stories like this one and I realize that it’s not.

Attorney ethics challenges of Twitter

March 21, 2010

Here is a another link to a discussion of how Twitter could run afoul of ethics rules.  If you have an RSS feed on your Twitter page for “attorneys AND Minneapolis” and someone tweets you asking if anyone knows a good entertainment attorney in Minneapolis, if you as the entertainment attorney or are someone who recommends an entertainment attorney and you respond via Twitter, could you run afoul of ethics rules?

The ABA panel recommended either emailing a response back or Tweeting a response sending the person to your website and having them make an inquiry through the website.  I’m sure these were “to be safe” requirements but above in the same summary, the panel suggested that these disputes were governed on a state by state basis and unless the particular state had an aggressive ban on solicitation, its unlikely responding via Twitter would pose a problem.

My suggestion? Create a online policy about how you interact with potential clients and post it to your website and explain how it conforms with your state ethics rules.  Will this shield you from all harm?  No, but given the fluid and confusing environment, being able to point to a well-thought out approach to online ethics would be a good start.