LIV President's Blog 2012

LIV President's Blog 2012

Michael Holcroft, LIV President 2012 on the latest issues and topics. Read and comment.

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Risks of social media for lawyers & how to manage them

Risks of social media for lawyers & how to manage them

As a 'newbie' to social media I am acutely aware of the opportunities and risks of tweeting, blogging and LinkedIn discussions. My platform this year is ”communicate, inspire and benefit”, so I encourage more in our profession to get the most out of social media and online networking. There are plenty of good online resources and the LIV runs training courses to assist members. 

Social media is here to stay and when deciding how to engage with it, we should realise that our clients will increasingly expect us to be on top of this form of communication.


Ethics and social media
Ethical responsibility and the Professional Conduct and Practice Rules 2005 apply equally to social media. The Victorian Bar issued an Ethics Committee Bulletin in June 2011 titled 'Social networking sites and breaches of professional conduct rules'. This bulletin reinforced that rules of professional conduct "apply equally to their activities on social networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, as they ordinarily do in other aspects of their day-to-day professional and personal lives.” I encourage you to read the bulletin.

How could you inadvertently go wrong?
Some of the errors that can occur include:

  • Client confidentiality can potentially be breached if you ‘friend’ or ‘connect’ with a client on a site such as Facebook or LinkedIn.  Once you are connected, your client can then view your list of ‘friends’ and ‘contacts’. They may be able to identify other clients.

  • Many social networking sites now include geo tags. If you enable this feature, it will include your location when you ‘update’ from a smart phone. For example, if a lawyer tweeted ‘Just met with an interesting new client’ with location information, this may inadvertently expose the client’s identity.

  • There have been several cases internationally where lawyers have shared information in blogs that identified a case, client or colleague. For example a former Illinois assistant public defender’s blog musings about difficult clients landed her in trouble.

  • Comments on third party blogs or news stories, even if you believe you are doing so anonymously, may expose yourself, a client, or case details.

Mistakes are rare, but can have high exposure
Mistakes in social media can attract much unwanted publicity. This was demonstrated when human rights lawyer Julian Burnside QC issued an unreserved apology to federal Opposition Leader Tony Abbott after referring to "Paedos in speedos" during a Twitter conversation. Burnside thought the message was a private Direct Message (DM), but accidently posted it to his 5000+ twitter followers.

When mistakes happen it’s best to apologize quickly, delete, learn from it and move on.

Risks for lawyers not using social media
We should also recognise that there are risks in not being involved or at least having a solid understanding of the main social networking sites. As lawyers, we need to understand social media and how it can affect our clients so we can serve them effectively. Sites such as Facebook are increasingly a
factor in family law, defamation, workplace relations cases and other areas of practice. Lawyers must keep up to date in this area … relying on younger staff members for tips is not enough!


Have a policy

It’s essential to have a social media policy and ensure staff understand it. These articles outline some pitfalls if you don’t: Good examples of social media policy and guidelines are:
LIV offers social media training
Our Legal Support Conference offering ‘10 take home tips, what technology can do for you and for your workplace’ on March 1, includes social media.

Future training planned will range from introductory CPD sessions, to 90 minute hands-on training in the LIV library in small groups. Contact our social media consultant to register interest in this training.

What are your thoughts on the risks of social media? What would you like training to cover? Please comment below.


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Disclaimer: Views expressed by commentators are not necessarily endorsed by the Law Institute of Victoria Ltd (LIV). No responsibility is accepted by the LIV for the accuracy of information contained in the comments and the LIV expressly disclaims any liability for, with respect to or arising from any such views.

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