Social Networks, The Internet & Ethical Considerations for Lawyers

by Charles M. Kidd

Do a little research into the subject of social networks on the internet and it seems almost compulsory that the author lead off every article with a partial listing of the social networking sites du jour.  Sadly, this article is no exception.  As of this writing, the best known social networks on the internet are Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn.  The internet, however, has other mechanisms that give lawyers an opportunity to share themselves and their opinions with the world.  These include Twitter, blogs too specialized and numerous to mention and the “old fashioned” website advertising the law firm to the world.  Furthermore, it is possible to combine elements of these various entities so that posts on one service can be made to appear on one’s Facebook page or blog almost simultaneously. All these opportunities to communicate with a lawyer’s public (or, more accurately, publics) are the reason why there is a wealth of articles and seminars on the use of internet based social networking mechanisms.

Looking at a lawyer’s ethical issues, there are concerns for the lawyer on both a personal level and on a level of concern for the client.  On the personal side, lawyers need to be concerned about many of the same things that they have been concerned about for years.  Does the law firm’s website comply with the advertising rules?  Do the lawyer’s comments on the Facebook page constitute legal advice?  Do internet and e-mail communications run the risk of establishing an attorney-client relationship or do they generate a duty to maintain the confidentiality of the communications?  These are common concerns that should affect the lawyer irrespective of whether he or she is using the latest technology or not.

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Charles M. KiddStaff Attorney, Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission.
The opinions and views expressed herein are solely those of this author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Supreme Court of Indiana, its Disciplinary Commission, ICLEF or any other agency.

Social networks, as a larger concept, could include bar associations or local service organizations. This article focuses on internet based social networks because of their rising popularity at the time of writing.

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