Social networking can be a powerful tool. When used correctly, social platforms have the ability to introduce your firm to a significant number of potential new clients, and can help you get the word out about all the wonderful work your law office does. However, social media channels, when used in the wrong fashion, also have the power to ruin a lawyer’s reputation, on-going cases, and even their career.
Before going any further, we want to clarify that the Answering Legal blog has long been an advocate of lawyers using social media as a marketing and client engagement tool. We are strong believers that the rewards of well thought out social media marketing campaigns greatly outweigh whatever risks that come with social networking. In this post—in an effort to help attorneys make smarter social media choices—we’ll be discussing five of the biggest ways attorneys end up misusing social platforms.
1. Giving Out Legal Advice
In our eBook, How Attorneys Are Marketing Their Firms In The Digital Age: A Survey Article, we asked Matt Starosciak of Proven Law Marketing if it was a smart practice for attorneys to answer legal questions from their social media users. His response didn’t leave much doubt about where he stood on the issue.
“I recommend staying far away from giving legal advice to anyone who hasn’t signed a retainer agreement,” Starosciak told us.
Answering a stranger’s specific legal questions online would seem like an obvious thing for attorneys to avoid. But, in a digital world where lawyers are competing with numerous other attorneys to win over the trust of prospective clients, answering legal questions can be quite tempting. After all, if you impress a prospect with your answer, it just might lead to them hiring you as their lawyer. But, giving strangers online advice for their specific legal issues also has the ability to land you in hot water. If things go wrong for the person asking the advice, they may blame you in the end.
“Giving legal advice on social media is like offering driving directions to someone without knowing where they’re going or the condition of their car,” Douglas Bradley of Everest Legal Marketing told us last fall. “For that reason, most State Bar associations have rules or opinions about it. However, most attorneys I work with tend to field simple legal questions with straightforward answers, and anything beyond that they request the person to call or email them.”
2. Weighing In With Personal Opinions
One way for lawyers to show off their legal knowledge and expertise, is to make posts with their reaction to current events and news stories relevant to their practice. Doing so can attract attention from potential clients and even from other attorneys that may become future referral sources. However, lawyers will want to avoid getting too personal when sharing their thoughts, something Alanna Fichtel of Good2BSocial commented on in a blog post earlier this year.
“Be careful how much of your own opinion you are advertising,” Fichtel said. “You could risk alienating potential new clients with opposing beliefs, or worrying current clients if your opinion does not align with the position of their case. Especially in discussions of controversial political issues, avoid posting about personal beliefs.”
While it would be nice to believe that legal consumers are only concerned about hiring the best lawyer for their case, there are usually many other factors at play. As Fichtel notes above, if a consumer or even a fellow lawyer sees you weighing in on a topic, and is rubbed the wrong way by something you said, it may end up costing your firm. So when weighing in on current events, always be mindful of what might turn off someone considering using your firm, and definitely stay clear of discussing political or religious beliefs in public platforms.
3. Sharing Client Stories Without Consent
It’s no secret that in the digital age, consumers take what their fellow consumers have to say about a business very seriously. While having positive online reviews is a great way to win the trust of online consumers, perhaps an even more powerful way is to share case studies and client success stories on your social media channels. Doing so shows prospective clients that your firm is highly capable of handling their problems, because they’ve been successful in solving the problems of real people in similar situations.
One thing to make sure you do before publicly sharing the story of a past client, is to contact the person and ask if it’s okay. If a former client finds out you’re sharing private details about their life (especially if the details are regarding a sensitive legal matter) on social media, they might not be overly thrilled. Doing so could lead to your firm receiving negative online feedback, losing out on repeat business and referrals, or even getting in a legal dispute.
Avoid the drama by simply giving your former client a call before posting about their experience with your firm. They may even be able to add to your post by sharing a photo, offering an update on their legal situation, or even agreeing to appear in a video testimonial.
4. Getting Caught In Lies
Lawyers who have personal accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn, are likely to come across some familiar looking faces in their lists of recommended friends and people to connect with. But, before accepting friend requests from familiar faces from around the courtroom, attorneys should remember that these people will be able to see everything they post, and take a moment to consider if a new connection could come back to bite them.
FindLaw shared one example of a legal professional who was exposed for lying by his social media account.
“There is the story of the Texas lawyer who asked for a continuance due to a death in the family and then posted status updates detailing her week of drinking and partying — which was seen by the judge on the case,” FindLaw shared. “The lesson learned here is — be careful what you say in a public space.”
A good lesson indeed. Being cautious about sharing your personal life on social media is probably the best lesson here, because even if you aren’t direct friends with a person, they may still be able to view your posts through mutual friends and colleagues.
5. Sharing Private Details
What happens in the courtroom, should stay in the courtroom. At least until the case is closed anyway. According to an article from the ABA Journal, this was a lesson Kentucky judge Sandra McLaughlin ended up learning the hard way.
These are some of the details from a story written by Debra Cassens Weiss:
McLaughlin shared a news article about a pending murder case and posted a comment on her “Judge Sandra McLaughlin” Facebook page, according to the reprimand. “This murder suspect was RELEASED FROM JAIL just hours after killing a man and confessing to police,” she wrote.
The end result of this was the judge being publicly reprimanded for violating judicial ethics rules. Embarrassing to say the least. Before even considering sharing details from a case, legal professionals should wait at least a few weeks until the case has been actually closed.