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D.C. Issues New Ethics Opinions for Lawyers Using Social Media

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Social media can be an excellent tool to connect with current and prospective clients, but it’s crucial to utilize it properly. Improper use can not only mean providing misleading content, but it can also lead to legal trouble.

The District of Columbia Bar has issued two in-depth ethics opinions about lawyers’ use of social media, which they define as follows:

“Social media and social networking websites are online communities that allow users to share information, messages, and other content, including photographs and videos.”

ethics opinions on social mediaSocial media include electronic platforms for communication or interaction such as:

  • Blogs
  • Public and private chat rooms
  • Listservs
  • Social networks and websites on which users share information, messages, e-mail, instant messages, photographs, video, voice or videoconferencing content
  • Other online locations

These and other networks allow attorneys to communicate with the public as well as other attorneys and/or clients. The ethics opinions cover the proper use of these platforms.

Social Media I: Marketing and Personal Use (Ethics Opinion 370)

This opinion addresses lawyers’ use of social media in terms of marketing and personal use. Social media activity that mentions, promotes or highlights a lawyer or law firm must comply with the rules set by Ethics Opinion 370, which cover the following:

  • Competence – Rule 1.1
  • Confidentiality of Information – Rule 1.6
  • Conflict of Interest: General – Rule 1.7
  • Duties to Prospective Client – Rule 1.18
  • Candor to Tribunal – Rule 3.3
  • Responsibilities of Partners, Managers, and Supervisory Lawyers – Rule 5.1
  • Responsibilities Regarding Non-Lawyer Assistants – Rule 5.3
  • Communications Concerning a Lawyer’s Services – Rule 7.1
  • Misconduct – Rule 8.4
  • Disciplinary Authority; Choice of Law – Rule 8.5

These rules apply to social networking activities in which an attorney or law firm may be engaged. Check out the opinion to see the entire list of covered activities.

Social Media II: Use of Social Media in Providing Legal Services (Ethics Opinion 371)

This opinion provides advice regarding lawyers’ conduct related to social media in terms of legal services, covering what’s required, permitted, or prohibited by the established rules. The opinion also identifies potential issues for lawyers as they provide legal services. Rules under Ethics Opinion 371 apply to the following areas of conduct:

  • Competence – Rule 1.1
  • Scope of Representation – Rule 1.2
  • Diligence and Zeal – Rule 1.3
  • Communication – Rule 1.4
  • Confidentiality of Information – Rule 1.6
  • Meritorious Claims and Contentions – Rule 3.1
  • Candor to Tribunal – Rule 3.3
  • Fairness to Opposing Party and Counsel – Rule 3.4
  • Impartiality and Decorum of the Tribunal – Rule 3.5
  • Trial Publicity – Rule 3.6
  • Special Responsibilities of a Prosecutor – Rule 3.8
  • Truthfulness in Statements to Others – Rule 4.1
  • Communication Between Lawyer and Person Represented by Counsel – Rule 4.2
  • Dealing with Unrepresented Person – Rule 4.3
  • Respect for Rights of Third Persons – Rule 4.4
  • Responsibilities of Partners, Managers, and Supervisory Lawyers – Rule 5.1
  • Responsibilities Regarding Nonlawyer Assistants – Rule 5.3
  • Misconduct – Rule 8.4

So many lawyers use social media for both personal and professional use, which magnifies the importance of understanding what to do and not do in every scenario. attorneys need consider how social media use may affect client-related matters in a variety of circumstances. According to the D.C. Bar, “We do not advise that every legal representation requires a lawyer to use social media. What is required is the ability to exercise informed professional judgment reasonably necessary to carry out the representation.”

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