“Legal Ethics: Social Media Edition”

I’ve written before about social media and the practice of law — How to Destroy a Legal Career with Facebook The Case of the Juror with the Twitchy Thumbs — the Oregon juror sanctioned for sending Tweets from the jury box, and Investigating with Social Media. And of course, I’ve written about other dumb things lawyers do. Today, I’m sharing a blog that combines the topics, from NW Lawyer, the Washington State Bar News blog.  Of course, your lawyer protagonist would never do such things, but the lawyer on the other side of a big case? The cute guy lawyer your protag used to see in the courthouse and now she wonders where he went — or why he’s now pulling espressos at Starbucks instead of working in the defender’s office?

“Legal Ethics: Social Media Edition


social mediaSocial media has potential pitfalls for everyone, but particularly lawyers. Take a look at these stories about lawyers using — and sometimes abusing — social media, and breathe a sigh of relief that you haven’t made any of these mistakes (you haven’t, right?)

About the Author

The Washington State Bar Association’s Office of Disciplinary Counsel (ODC) is responsible for reviewing, investigating and prosecuting grievances about the ethical conduct of Washington lawyers. Learn more about the ODC.”

Googling potential jurors

I’ve done it for years. When my law firm takes on a new case, I Google opposing parties and scour their websites. I Google our client. I look at what they post — publicly — on Facebook. I check for news accounts of the incident involved. I’ve discovered surprising things that weren’t in the files. No smoking guns, but useful information that helps me understand who and what we’re dealing with. I read the comments on news accounts to get a sense of the public perception, true or false. And if a case goes to trial, we do the same for potential jurors, to get a sense of who they are — and keep an eye out for any violations of the judge’s admonitions against talking about the case publicly during trial. Trials are expensive, emotional, and time-consuming — and a juror’s misconduct can torch years of effort.

Never, ever, though, would I go beyond the public wall to “friend” or “follow” a witness or potential juror. Like many other lawyers, I think it’s part of my obligation to my client to look at the information a person shares publicly, but to pry into private communications or to “friend” a witness on FB — even if they know, or should know, who we are — would clearly be an ethical violation.

The American Bar Association has now given a green light to the practice of looking at public information, such as corporate or individual websites, or public Facebook profiles. Whether lawyers can hire firms to do the research, essentially profiling a juror from their social media posts, is still an open question. Individual states and courts may, of course, approve or sanction the practice, but the ABA opinion is good guidance.

How will your characters use this tool — or break the rules?