Lawyers’ Ethics & Social Media – Like oil and water?
Guest Blog by Mena Ruparel
You might be puzzled by this blog, what do social media and lawyers’ ethics have in common? For solicitors who use social media (almost everyone) ethics should be in the back of every lawyer’s mind every time they tweet, post, like, comment or share something.
Social media portals are generally thought of as being relaxed environments, social and (quite) friendly. Even when solicitors use social media for business purposes, regulations and controls are not rigid.
Solicitors should bear in mind that the Law Society has issued a practice note on how solicitors should use social media.
The long and the short of it is that solicitors have an overwhelming obligation to the public, both on the job and when they are “off the clock”. Solicitors sending tweets on Friday night after a glass (or two) of wine probably haven’t got the SRA code of conduct 2011 very clearly in mind. Principle 2 requires solicitors to act with integrity, at all times. Principle 6 requires a solicitor to behave in a way that maintains the trust that the public places in them and in the provision of legal services, at all times.
These are very widely drawn obligations and there are times when solicitors get caught out in ways that seriously impact on their careers. Thinking ethically involves asking yourself the following question – what is the right thing to do in this situation. Taking it one step further, ask yourself what you would do if your mother, partner or child heard what you said, tweeted, posted or commented – would you still do it? The internal voice that tells you in a moment of reflection to “STOP”, is often silenced when you’re online.
Let us take for example the solicitor who upon exiting a football match had a few choice words about Liverpool fans. Whilst it would be inappropriate to repeat his words here, he was clearly “off duty”. He was approached in a social situation by someone who wanted to know his views for a YouTube interview, not an interview for the national press! He said (after the event) that he was being hot-headed and that he let his emotions get the better of him. He lost his job as a result of his public comments and the fact that he was identified as a solicitor by a third party.
As far as we are aware, there has been no regulatory action against this solicitor, (nor do we suggest that there should be). Many commentators have noted that this seemed a harsh reaction from his firm; from a compliance standpoint the firm may have suffered reputational damage and were preventing further damage. His views certainly don’t cover the profession in glory and could be seen to be a breach of principle 6.
Solicitors commenting on articles in the Law Society Gazette and on LinkedIn groups should beware the same fate if they write inappropriate comments or posts or share inappropriate images. I have seen lawyers posting photos on LinkedIn with the files in their rooms clearly visible (with a good zoom you can see client names), and even one who named his very famous client on twitter.
So with all that said – be aware of the negative implications of forgetting that lawyers should maintain professional ethics when using social media channels – you could lose your job or be sanctioned.
Mena Ruparel, www.menaruparel.com, is a Family Law solicitor, an arbitrator, an associate lecturer and an experienced trainer. She is also Managing Director of Law CPD Solutions Ltd http://www.lawcpdsolutions.co.uk/ – which is helping law firms and individuals adapt to the new CPD scheme. Mena is an avid and skilled user of all social media, especially LinkedIn and is currently co-authoring a book on Ethics for Solicitors – scheduled for publication in May 2016 by Bath Publishing. See this link for details: http://www.bathpublishing.com/ethics-for-solicitors-a-practical-guide.html
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