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: