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Social Media's Impact on the Attorney-Client Relationship

By Deanne Katz, Esq. | Last updated on

Social media has its risks for attorneys who don't want their private life to affect their professional career. The things you write online can have a negative impact on attorney-client relationships.

Of course unprofessional conduct on social media can be a turn-off to clients. But the real issue is when statements made by an attorney run the risk of violating the rules of professional responsibility. We don't mean in terms of wardrobe or 'conduct unbecoming an attorney.'

It's not about your image as a professional. Comments on social media can also call into question your competence to represent your clients.

A lot of social media outlets can feel like an extension of a personal diary or a private conversation. When you refer to 'your' Facebook page or 'your' Twitter account, it creates an illusion of control over your content.

But that is only an illusion. No matter how many privacy settings you have on your account, if other people can see it then it's not private.

Unlike a conversation with a friend, an online post lasts. Other people can read it and they may not appreciate it as much as the intended recipient.

Disparaging comments about a client are offensive not just to your client but to people who read the post. It may lead potential clients to question how you would talk about them if you took their case.

In a solo or small firm, your attitude is your best advertisement. If people don't like how you talk about your clients it could cost you business.

It could also lead to charges for violating the rules of professional responsibility.

Even if you don't identify the client by name, referencing your cases at all on social media is something best avoided. Comments that include any facts could be traced back to a client and would violate attorney-client confidentiality.

Online communications might also constitute a conflict of interest depending on who sees them.

Unless your social media contacts lists are under 20 people, there's a good chance you don't know a lot about everyone who can see your posts. Those people may be adverse to your client or may know people who are. Putting information about your work online could mean sharing it with someone who shouldn't know.

Practicing law is a stressful job and it's important to vent sometimes. But when you do, keep the facts vague and only talk about it face to face. Putting it online isn't helping you or your client.

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