YourABA October 2012 Masthead

Prevent these professional pitfalls
of social media

Whether tweeting or posting on Facebook outside of work, lawyers still have to maintain a professional image. “The casual and open environment of social media often clashes with the tradition and formality of the legal profession,” says Agnieszka McPeak of Stone Pigman Walther Wittmann, in New Orleans. “Even when not at work, attorneys are held to a higher standard and must display integrity, honesty, civility and professionalism.”

Before you post, ask yourself if you’d share that photo or story with a client at
a business lunch.

McPeak says a lawyer’s responsibilities are threefold: treat fellow members of the bar with respect and dignity; uphold client confidence and avoid conflicts and dishonesty; and strive to improve the profession’s public image.

Following are 10 tips she shared in The Young Lawyer to help lawyers uphold these standards and still partake in social-media sites.

  1. Real-world rules apply. The Rules of Professional Conduct still are relevant to online activity.

  2. Keep online activity “business casual.” Before you post, ask yourself if you’d share the photo or story with a client at a business lunch.

  3. Beware the Internet bubble. Social media can create a false sense of anonymity. “Don’t let this cloud your judgment,” McPeak says. Remember that “what seems like a private exchange among a few people can be visible to many.”

  4. Don’t rely on privacy settings. “Never assume privacy settings give you license to act unprofessionally,” McPeak says. Privacy settings can be unreliable: Mistakes can happen, and what you think is private could become public.

  5. Don’t bash your boss, your client or your judge.

  6. Protect your credibility. “Your online activity may be inconsistent with your real-world persona,” McPeak says. “Don’t let your posts destroy your credibility.”

  7. Use good manners. Avoid bad grammar, profanity and slang. “Remember that nonlawyers are among those who see your posts, and you degrade the public perception of attorneys by displaying poor behavior online,” McPeak says.

  8. Steer clear of politics. Political rants invite unproductive debate, McPeak says. Besides, she adds, “you never know who your future clients are, and your comments easily can be taken out of context.”

  9. Avoid overly personal posts. “Too much information is a bad thing,” McPeak says. “Even trite and mundane comments can add up to paint an unflattering picture.”

  10. Guard your reputation. Your online persona cannot be divorced from your professional reputation. Maintain professionalism across the board.

The Young Lawyer is a publication of the ABA Young Lawyers Division. To read the full article, click here.

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