Are Social Media Profiles Subject to the Legal Advertising Ethics Rules?

March 7, 2017

Many lawyers hesitate to engage in social media marketing because they do not understand how the legal advertising ethics rules apply to social media. Trust me, I get it. As a practicing attorney and social media marketing consultant for lawyers, I understand the need to comply with our legal advertising ethics rules and how the ethics rules apply to social media.

The problem we face by waiting on the sidelines is that we miss out on the opportunity to generate new clients and referrals on social media while our competitors are marketing themselves to friends and colleagues in their personal and professional networks. It is therefore critical for our success as lawyers that we learn and understand how the legal advertising ethics rules apply to our personal and professional social media use. Let’s begin with whether our social media profiles are governed by the legal advertising ethics rules:

Scenario 1: Our Law Firm Social Media Page

This is an easy one. If you have a social media page devoted to your law firm, it is governed by the legal advertising ethics rules. It’s as simple as that. There is certainly a significant upside to having a dedicated profile on a social media platform where potential clients can easily locate your firm and learn about your services, but the information contained on your law firm’s social media profiles must comply with all of the provisions of your jurisdiction’s advertising ethic rules.

Scenario 2: Your Personal Social Media Profile

Most attorneys believe that the legal advertising ethics rules do not apply to their social media profiles. Unfortunately, they’re wrong. If you promote your practice in any way on your personal social media profiles, your content must comply with the legal advertising rules. This means that information about your qualifications, practice, quality of your services, and the representation of your clients must be complete, accurate, and be in compliance with all of rules governing attorney advertising. Your communications and activity on your personal profiles – including private messages, friend requests, and invitations to “like” your law firm page – must also comply with the legal advertising ethics rules. This means that you cannot solicit friends for business in a manner that would violate the rules against contacting prospective clients and must mindful of who you send social media friend requests or invitations to connect.

Scenario 3: What if I only use my Profile to Connect with Family and Friends?

Some jurisdiction’s social media guidelines state that if a lawyer’s personal profile is solely used for social purposes, then the profile would not be subject to the advertising ethics rule. These guidelines say that profiles are used “solely used for social purposes” when they are only used to maintain social contact with family and close friends. While some lawyers believe their profile may fall under this exception, consider the following ways in which a profile would not longer be seen as “solely” for social purposes:

  • the lawyer identifies themselves as an attorney as their occupation
  • the lawyer lists their law firm as their employer in their biography
  • the lawyer “checks in” to a courthouse for a hearing
  • the lawyer posts a photograph attending a legal networking event
  • the lawyer shares a link to an article they published in a professional journal
  • the lawyer promotes a result they obtain for a client

You get the idea. This list could go on and on. The fact of the matter is that your social media profiles and your status as a practicing attorney are forever linked. Even if you do not actively mention that you are a lawyer on your personal profile or post any content relating to our practice, what you say and do on social media will ultimately be a reflection on you and your firm.

Regardless of whether you believe your profile is subject to the advertising ethics rules, you would be well served to use careful judgment before posting about sensitive topics, clients, or about your practice as it could ultimately be seen by your current and potential clients, opposing parties, or even an ethics panel. I therefore recommend that you follow this general rule:

Presume that your Social Media Profiles Must Comply

with the Legal Advertising Ethics Rules

In this way, you can be certain that your personal and professional social media use complies with the legal advertising ethics rules and that you can safely enjoy your interactions with friends and colleagues in a manner that may lead to new business.

As both a practicing attorney and social media consultant for lawyers, I understand the applicable legal advertising rules and how they apply to social media. Contact me today to learn more about how to use social media marketing to attract new clients and understand how the legal advertising ethics rules apply social media.


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