Lawyers Should Know Ethics Rules and Social Media Policies for Blogs and Social Media (LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook): Bar Regs and Other Social Media Guidelines

Individual bar associations across the country may or may not have regulations governing social media on their books: social media moves fast; the process of creating new rules to govern the practice of law within certain jurisdictions, not so much.

Obviously, lawyers should know their own bar rules and regulations, since they are bound by the ethical rules applicable to their jurisdiction(s).  That's not the only attempt at corralling online communications on the web, however. 

Social Media Policies and Guidelines Established for Private Companies and Public Entities

Attorneys should be aware that social media policies and online communication guidelines are being set up by many different types of entities now; savvy lawyers will be aware of those internet rules and regulations that may apply to certain clientele - as well as those of a competing law firm (e.g., the April 2011 social media guidelines established by Baker & Daniels).

For example, there are social media policies in place for the States of Delaware, Oklahoma, and North Carolina as well as big corporations like Ford Motor Company, FedEx, and Coca-Cola. Many more have been collected for review by Chris Boudreaux at SocialMediaGovernance.com, an excellent go-to site for those interested in learning more about the evolving trends in controlling social media today.

Lawyers and Ethical Rules, Social Media Guidelines

Does the attorney have to know these social media guidelines?  No, the lawyer will not be controlled by these policies; however, he or she should be able to explain why they disagree with a particular guideline if a client, potential client, or referral source asks about it after reading the lawyer's blog or social media tweets, pokes, etc.  Having access to this information when creating an internal set of online social media guidelines as part of law firm policy will also be very helpful. 

Does the lawyer need to know about ethical rules?  Yes, they do need to know what their local and state bar associations have defined as acceptable online communications.  Lawyers and law firms should be aware of the ethical rules and regulations that apply to their online activities: they may be disciplined for violating them (e.g., reprimand, suspension).

In some states, a broad brush is applied to blogs, Twitter accounts, and pages on LinkedIn, Facebook (and now Google+) where the governing body attempts to regulate these new marketing avenues using the same solicitation rules already in place for things like web sites and direct e-mail communications.  Comments and guidelines to existing ethical codes need to be monitored. 

For example, the State Bar of Texas has tried to keep up with the rapid changes in social media by issuing an "interpretive comment" to work in conjunction with Part 7 of the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct. 

Another example: the State Bar of Florida, which has passed specific regulatory language that applies specifically to the growing use of social media by attorneys and law firms.  Shown below is the Florida Bar's Guideline for Networking Sites, note how Florida goes into detail about such things as LinkedIn professional pages and Instant Messages: 


Righthaven RIP: Assets Being Seized, Rumors of Righthaven Bankruptcy Roam the Web

Righthaven's going down, and going down fast:  today the news is that creditors are seizing assets of Righthaven, Inc. - the company that struck fear into many a blogger's heart as it filed copyright infringement lawsuits throughout Nevada and other states (South Carolina, Colorado) without so much as a cease and desist notice letter.

Righthaven is reported to be considering bankruptcy even as I type this. 

There's more.  Attorney Todd Kincannon is reportedly mounting a class action lawsuit against Righthaven, Inc. If you believe that you may have been harmed by the actions of Righthaven, Inc., then Mr. Kincannon wants to chat with you.

What did Righthaven do?  It bought the copyrights from various media sites and then sued websites and blogs for violation of federal copyright laws  (see my July 2010 post for details, "Profiting from Copyright Infringement - New Vegas Company Sues Bloggers After Buying Media Copyrights.")

What happened next?  After over 250 of these suits were filed (some reports are that they've filed over 275 cases), federal judges started acting.  The suits were blown out of court for things like standing problems.  (See, "Righthaven's Days May Be Numbered: Federal Judges Are Ruling Against Standing and More.")

And, Righthaven started losing cases.  In the asset seizure making news now, Righthaven defendant Wayne Hoehn is seeking to enforce a federal court order that orders Righthaven to pay Mr. Hoehn $34,000 as reimbursement of the legal fees that he had to pay to defend himself against their copyright lawsuit.

Righthaven whined to the federal judge, the Honorable Philip Pro of the United States District Court for the District of Nevada, asking him to stay the award because having to pay Mr. Hoehn right now might force Righthaven into bankruptcy.  Judge Pro was not swayed; the order stands.

So, right now, federal marshalls will be executing on Righthaven assets to meet that $34,000 award and Righthaven may be filing a bankruptcy petition (where the automatic stay might temporarily stop the marshalls).

For all things Righthaven, check out the excellent website that is monitoring all this:  RighthavenLawsuits.

Does this mean no more copyright infringement suits?  I doubt it.  I don't know that "copyright trolls" will have a big future - but those that own the copyrights are free to sue for federal copyright law violations.  Righthaven was acting as a middleman, in a way: buying those rights and then suing based upon them.

Take out Righthaven, what have you got?  No more middleman.  If it is cost-effective to sue for copyright violations, then owners will do so.  Maybe Righthaven's aftermath will be that they will be more inclined to file.


Anonymous Comments: Should You Block Them From Your Blog?

Anonymous comments did not start with the World Wide Web; they've been around for centuries and they've always been a headache at times. For an interesting read about anonymous comments, check out the Online Journalism Review's article on traditional journalism's take on anonymous commenting -- you'll learn a lot: for instance, did you know that Benjamin Franklin wrote many an anonymous comment under the psuedonym "Silence Dogood"?

The position of many print publishers is this: if someone wants to have their words published in their publication, then the publisher feels that the writer should have the cojones (yes, I'm in Texas) to put their name right up there with their comment. Of course, the publisher's lawyers have pointed out that there may be legal consequences to the words printed in the publication; therefore, having the ability to find that potential co-defendant if the comment proves litigious is important to the legal team.

I get it. And I'm still in favor of allowing anonymous comments on your blog (or blawg).

Here's why: technology being what it is today, right now there are all sorts of hurdles to leaving a comment on a blog or newspaper or online magazine. Just this past week I experienced the following:

  1. I had a devil of a time trying to leave a comment to a Typepad post - I was requested to sign in via Twitter or Facebook or Google to leave the comment, or alternatively leave my name and address (for the blog's growing email marketing list). If I used Twitter, I was asked to agree to allow the platform to post its own tweets on my Twitter feed. That's right. Their stuff. On my Twitter feed. Without my prior looksie. I was left with two options, well three: (a) agree to be on their mailing list; (2) allow the platform to be my Tweet-partner; or (3) not leave a comment. Surprise: I didn't leave the comment.
  2. A client in Florida wanted to put a comment at one of the top Florida newspaper's online sites. Same platform issue. After much time (that we both could and should have dedicated to other things), her comment was left on the news article -- and now, she is watching her Twitter feed, to see what they are going to do (and I hope she's got her finger on the Application Approval button at the Twitter settings page).
In social media today (think Klout), you want to have comments on your blog (or blawg).  You want to make it easy for readers to communicate with you.  Sure, there's a spam issue and yes, there will be times when a comment is troublesome. I'm not recommending that bloggers ignore the contents of the comments and monitor what's being written by readers. 

However, it is just too darn easy to surf away if the blog (or blawg) puts up a hurdle for the reader to jump in order to write a short thought or two about the post.  Who wants to spend all that time and effort just to leave a little message?

I know I don't.  I leave anonymous comments when it's too much burdensome to get through the blogging platform's hurdles ... maybe I will leave a signature within the comment itself.  If I remember.  For something like, "thanks for sharing this" I may not.

Bottom line:
  • blocking anonymous comments doesn't help your reader (or your social media dialogue, if that is the terminology that floats your boat) and may alienate some of them, since it's the fastest and simplest way of leaving a comment online. 
  • forcing readers to allow third party access to things like their Twitter feeds just to have the joy of leaving a comment on your blog is just plain disrespectful and manipulative and wrong in my humble opinion, and I'm sure I'm not alone here. 
  • blocking anonymous commenting is not going to prevent you from getting troublesome comments: it's just as easy for troublemakers to create online pseudonyms with fake online email accounts, etc. as it was for Ben Franklin to sign "Silence DoGood" to his letters long ago -- you're not stopping the dedicated writer who doesn't want to leave his real name. 
  • in the event of a huge lawsuit, techies may well be able to track down the source of the comment anyway: how anonymous that writer really is in today's technological world is debatable.


Considering Book Covers: Different Needs for Print and EBook

I'm in the process of getting a series of books published and it's crazy how many details there are in what appeared to be a pretty simple path.  One thing that has been a bigger stumbling block than I had planned for:  the ebook cover. 

How the image appears in a thumbprint on Amazon's website is very important, and has very different demands than an eye-catching book cover on a shelf or table at the local brick and mortar. 

Very Different.

Here's a great blog post that not only discusses these differences but gives some nice covers as examples, with a critique of them: 

15 Ebook Covers: Success and Failure in the Kindle Store by Joel Friedlander at The Book Designer


Grading My Own Papers: Top Results In Google that Hold Over Time

On August 30, 2011, I was asked by a national legal marketing agency to provide them with some details on what I achieve in Google results, and while I explained that I cannot violate confidentiality by providing statistics from ghost-coaching clients or ghostwriting clients I could - and did - provide them with the following:

1. Performance example of writing style/content from blog that I write with Terry Lenamon

Terry Lenamon on the Death Penalty  
  • This blog was holding at Google page rank of 5/10 with only 8 posts per month until our summer 2011 hiatus (now we're at 4/10). 
  • Google Everything search: death penalty | Google rank: 4 / 26,900,000 (first blog shown in results) 

2. Examples of holding top search results in Google from my four personal blogs (posts chosen at random): 

Reba Kennedy.Writer.Lawyer. 

Backseat Lawyer 
  • Google Everything search: lawyer blog | Google rank: 12 / 90,000,000 (still in the first page of results) 
  • post example: Google Everything search: jose baez | Google rank: 3 / 6,790,000 | post written: 01/15/2009 (2 years, 8 months old) 

Rebecca Kennedy's Blog 
  • Google Everything search: fiction writing blog | Google rank: 10 / 129,000,000 
  • post example: Google Everything search: thriller vs. mystery | Google rank: 1 / 13,200,000 | post written: 11/24/2006 (4 years, 10 months old) 

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