CBJ - June 2012 #02. Social media mirrors real life, proposed ethics opinion says.

Author:By Amy Yarbrough Staff Writer

California Bar Journal


CBJ - June 2012 #02.

Social media mirrors real life, proposed ethics opinion says

The California LawyerJune 2012Social media mirrors real life, proposed ethics opinion saysBy Amy YarbroughStaff WriterLawyers should follow the same ethical rules whether advertising themselves in a phone book or on Facebook.

That's the gist of a proposed ethics opinion by the State Bar Standing Committee on Professional Responsibility and Conduct (COPRAC) which states that an attorney's postings on Facebook or other social media are bound by the same rules as those governing more traditional forms of advertising.

When it comes to advertising their firms or services, attorneys must comply with the California Business and Professions Code and Rule 1-400 of the State Bar's Rules of Professional Conduct. Rule 1-400 states, among other things, that attorneys must not market themselves to potential clients using false statements or hold themselves out to be a "certified specialist" unless they've received such a designation from the Board of Legal Specialization or an entity accredited by the State Bar. Attorneys must also take care not to guarantee or predict the result of a representation.

"The restrictions imposed by the professional responsibility rules and standards governing attorney advertising are not relaxed merely because such compliance might be more difficult or awkward in a social media setting," the proposed opinion 10-0001 states.

Ethics expert Wendy Patrick noted that every year at the State Bar Annual Meeting there seem to be more and more programs designed to teach lawyers how to use social media to increase their exposure. Patrick, who chairs COPRAC, offered her personal views on the topic, which she explained were not made on behalf of the Committee.

"I believe this opinion will provide helpful guidance to lawyers given the incredible popularity of social media use among legal practitioners," Patrick said in an email. "Ethics rules apply online as well as offline."

Despite a cool response in the past, law firms have started to embrace social networking, according to a recent survey by ALM...

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