Law Tips: Social Media & Legal Ethics – Part 2

Unauthorized Practice of Law

Welcome back to our Law Tips series on Social Media and Legal Ethics.  I am grateful to John David Hoover for the valuable advice in Part 1 that pointed out Ex Parte Communications  issues to be wary of as you venture through the social media legal arena.  This week we’ll look at his timely tips concerning “Unauthorized Practice Of  Law.”

Indiana Rule of Professional Conduct 5.5 prohibits a lawyer who is not admitted in Indiana from practicing law in Indiana.  Rule 8.5 allows the Disciplinary Commission to impose discipline on an attorney not licensed in Indiana, but who provides or offers to provide any legal services in Indiana.  All states have such rules. If a blog or other social media site offers legal advice in Indiana, but the lawyer who posts the information is not a lawyer here, our Disciplinary Commission can discipline the attorney for the unauthorized practice of law.  And, discipline for the same conduct can be administered in the lawyer’s state of domicile, since most states share reciprocity of disciplinary actions. The same is true for the Indiana lawyer who provides legal advice in another jurisdiction.

Social media may lead you to communicate with another individual in a way that inadvertently establishes an attorney-client relationship.  If so, because of the nature of the Internet, it may lead you to provide legal advice or other services that may be considered practicing law in other states.

Recently, a Michigan lawyer, Patrick Rocchio, had advertised on his website that he was a licensed Indiana lawyer, when in fact, his license was inactive. A grievance was filed by the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission relating to the false advertising, among other charges. His actions likely would have resulted in a low sanction. However, his conduct throughout the disciplinary process, including inflammatory communications with Commission staff and a clear disregard for the disciplinary process drew the ire of the Indiana Supreme Court who ultimately issued a 180 day suspension without automatic reinstatement.  See in re Rocchio, 943 N.E.2d 797 (2011).  His discipline in Indiana also affected his Michigan licensure, where he was reprimanded by that state’s disciplinary board. (For Mr. Rocchio’s amusing take on his sanctions, Click Here.

Definitions of legal practice may be unclear in some states, but all regulate who may practice law and under what circumstances. Thus, it is imperative that, before responding to requests for legal information on a social media site, or weighing in on a topic of interest, that you ask yourself some questions.  Where are the recipients of the posting located?  Where is the source of the legal problem located?  Are your postings legal advice? Where are you licensed to offer legal advice?  Why are you offering advice?

The attraction toward social networking in the legal profession is exploding, as in so many venues.  There’s no doubt of the possible benefits that lawyers might find.  As you take steps in expanding those activities, Mr. Hoover’s helpful advice on Social Media Ethics provides food-for-thought on the ethical issues that lawyers must consider. This Law Tips series follows up with another meaty topic next week.

You can also take advantage of the opportunity for John’s full presentation in the “Business Litigation” seminar.

To view the upcoming Video Replays, the Online/On Demand Video or purchase the e-Publication of “Business Litigation“ – Click Here

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About our Law Tips faculty member:
John David Hoover is a founding partner with Hoover Hull LLP. He practices in the areas of commercial litigation, professional liability (including medical and legal malpractice defense), professional peer review, officer and director defense, campaign and election law, art litigation, and counseling buyers and sellers on the purchase and sale of fine art items.

About our Law Tips blogger:
Nancy Hurley, Law Tips blogger, has long-standing connections with Indiana lawyers. She was formerly a member of the ISBA and IBF staffs for over 30 years. Nancy’s latest lifestyle venture is with ICLEF. We plan to utilize her exceptional writing and interviewing skills while exploring how her Indiana-lawyer background fits with ICLEF’s needs. When she isn’t ferreting out new topics for Law Tips, her work can be found in our Speaker Spotlight blogs, postings on the ICLEF Facebook page, Twittering and other places her legal experience lends itself.

Thank you for reading Law Tips. You may subscribe to this weekly blog through the RSS link at the top of this page. Also, look for blog updates on Facebook and Twitter.  Your comments are welcome as Nancy continues to sift through the treasure trove of knowledge of our expert faculty to share with you on Law Tips.

ICLEF • Indiana Continuing Legal Education Forum, Indianapolis, IN

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