General Practice, Solo & Small Firm Division

A service of the ABA General Practice, Solo & Small Firm Division

Technology eReport

American Bar Association - Defending Liberty, Pursuing Justice

JUN 2009

Vol. 8, No. 2



Online Manners Matter!

The inspiration for this month’s column came in the form of a YouTube video sent to us by a colleague, entitled “ Facebook Manners and You.” Whether or not you remember those scratchy, dated, black-and-white educational films from school, you’ll appreciate this humorous 4 minute and 13 second video. Like all good humor, it has the ring of truth—your behavior on the Internet matters.

We both grew up in places and times where a premium was placed on having good manners. When email and electronic mailing lists came along, it seemed like communications got shorter and less formal, and some of us forgot our manners. New verbs were invented, such as “flaming” (a nasty or angry retort in an email reply) and “spamming” (sending unsolicited broadcast emails). If we used all capital letters in a message we were “shouting.” A code of conduct for email interactions quickly evolved, and “netiquette”—etiquette for the Internet—was created.

Now text messaging and interacting in online social networks have caught on among attorneys and other professionals. As we substitute electronic socializing for face-to-face communication, opportunities abound that we will inadvertently offend someone, or worse. Something happens when we’re alone with our words and a keyboard—we let our guard down more. Many of us are far more relaxed online than we are in person. Stop! Anything you do on the Internet or when texting with your cell phone can and will be held against you!

In fact, the media is full of cautionary tales of individuals damaging their careers or personal lives through careless or thoughtless electronic communications. There’s the infamous “ Cisco Fatty” story (job interviewee blows it with Twitter post), and the Philadelphia Eagles employee fired for a Facebook post, to name just a couple. We think by observing some social niceties, it’s possible you won’t end up as an online casualty—to that end, this week we focus on sites for good online manners.

In our search about manners on the Internet, we headed to Netlingo lets us search for Web-specific terms and definitions or browse by category. More than a dictionary, our search for “netiquette” brought up both the definition and eighteen netiquette rules. Number 1 on their list? “Do not spam.” That’s a good one, but our number 1 rule would be: “Don’t put anything in an email or text that you wouldn’t want on a busy highway billboard or the front page of the local newspaper.” (We recognize that everyone violates this rule from time to time.)

You can find more netiquette rules at the Netiquette Home Page. The site contains the Web version of the book Netiquette by Virginia Shea, which has all the netiquette basics, or you can get a quick run-down of the book’s top ten “Core Rules of Netiquette.” Smart Computing also has advice on netiquette, including this article with the advice to count to ten before sending anything over the Internet. You can find more tips by doing a site search for “netiquette.”

If you’d like to read a nice essay on civility on the Internet, has an essay, Mind your Manners Online . The author argues persuasively that the future of the Internet hinges on manners.

Longing for a modern day Emily Post to help you through this manners morass? We found, which fills Emily’s shoes quite nicely. There’s Email Etiquette 101, which explains in detail everything you need to know about email courtesy. It’s full of great advice, and tidbits like “Online Perception Is the Only Reality.” You can sign up for email notification, ask the site mistress “Judith” questions, check out the glossary, and read “how-to” articles.

Is there anything specific to lawyers and netiquette? Well, many states have adopted professionalism codes, which arguably extend to lawyers’ behavior on the Internet. You can find links to them by state at the ABA Center for Professional Responsibility.

Sometimes being polite is just a matter of understanding the local rules and customs, both written and unwritten. Google failed us on locating unwritten rules of courts. (Are you listening Google?) But has a “must bookmark” page with links to more than 1,400 sources for state and federal court rules, forms, and dockets. Jim notes that the Oklahoma Supreme Court has links to lots of local rules. Your state court’s website probably offers something similar—look for “local court rules.”

What about the new world of online social networking sites, like Facebook and MySpace? With more than 200 million members, chances are you’re either on Facebook or have at least heard of it. However, you may not be familiar with LinkedIn. LinkedIn has the reputation of being a more “grown-up” social network—one that professionals will feel comfortable in. In fact, we’ve overheard more than a few lawyers say they use LinkedIn for “work” and Facebook for “personal.” So, if you like the idea of doing more online networking, but still want to keep it professional, give LinkedIn a look.

Netiquette in social network sites can differ a good bit from email. A social media consultant has put together The Ultimate Social Media Etiquette Handbook. The handbook is a concise rundown of the most popular social networking sites and etiquette recommendations for each. For example, you shouldn’t use a fake name as your Facebook name or consistently use your Twitter stream for nothing but self-promotion.

We hope that you take this column as a gentle reminder to watch your manners online just as you do in person. If our column has in any way offended you, we apologize, and ask that you refer to Rule 10 of the Core Rules of Netiquette: Be forgiving of other people’s mistakes.

Jim Calloway is the director of the Oklahoma Bar Association Management Assistance Program. He served as chair of the ABA TECHSHOW 2005. Calloway publishes the weblog, Jim Calloway’s Law Practice Tips, at, and was coauthor of the book, Winning Alternatives to the Billable Hour. He serves on the GP|Solo Division Technology Board. Courtney Kennaday is the director of the Practice Management Assistance Program of the South Carolina Bar. She advises bar members on practice management and law office technology.

© Copyright 2009, American Bar Association.