Love it or hate it, social media is here to stay. Individuals have embraced social media because it simplifies staying in touch and provides an online platform for sharing ideas, photographs, and interests with others. Businesses have discovered social media's utility and use it to create brand awareness, manage online reputation, recruit talent, and market to customers. Lawyers, too, have seized upon social media as a tool in litigation.
The casual and open environment of social media often clashes with the tradition and formality of the legal profession. Even when not at work, attorneys are held to a higher standard and must display integrity, honesty, civility, and professionalism.
An attorney's professional responsibilities are three-fold: (1) treat fellow members of the bar with the utmost respect and dignity; (2) uphold client confidences and avoid conflicts and dishonesty, and (3) strive to improve the public image of the legal profession. The following tips help ensure attorneys are living up to these professional standards while still living their lives online.
1. Real World Rules Still Apply
As a starting point, always remember that the Rules of Professional Conduct still apply to your online activity.
2. In a Shorts-and-Sneakers World, Keep It Business Casual
Social media is a very casual setting, but as attorneys we have to maintain professionalism. Always keep your online activity "business casual." Before you post, ask yourself if you'd share this picture or story with a client at a business lunch or acquaintances at a bar association mixer.
3. Beware the Bubble
Social media creates a false sense of anonymity and freedom from restraint. Don't let this cloud your judgment. Remember that you are publishing and archiving your comments, and what seems like a private exchange among a few people can be visible to many.
4. Use Careful Privacy Settings, But Don't Count on Them
Keep your online information private, but never assume privacy settings give you license to act unprofessionally. The average Facebook user has a whopping 130 friends, any of whom can copy, paste, and disseminate your "private" posts. And privacy settings are often complicated or unreliable. Mistakes can happen—what you think is private may actually become public.
5. Boss-Bashing Is Bad
Never post degrading or negative comments about your employer, your client, or your judge. Period.
6. Credibility Counts
Half-truths and fibs easily can be exposed online, and your online activity may be inconsistent with your real world persona. Don't let your posts destroy your credibility.
7. Mind Your Manners
Don't fall into the habit of using bad grammar, profanity, and slang. Civility and respect cannot be ignored in the virtual world. Remember that non-lawyers are among those who see your posts, and you degrade the public perception of attorneys by displaying poor behavior online.
8. Politics Can Backfire
Political rants about hot-button issues invite unproductive debate and often lead to hostility. You never know who your future clients are, and your comments easily can be taken out of context.
9. Avoid the Over-Share
Beware of using geo-tagging features, making overly personal posts, or allowing automatic updates across multiple social media channels. Too much information is a bad thing—even trite and mundane comments can add up to paint an unflattering picture.
10. Your Online Reputation Is Your Reputation
You cannot divorce your online persona from your professional reputation. Reconcile the two and maintain professionalism across the board.