There are certain ethical boundaries that define the law industry, and some people may argue social media hasn't exactly made ethical dilemmas easy to solve. Keep reading to learn about how social media has impacted legal proceedings, and what that means for legal experts or even members of a jury.
Getting Too Friendly on Facebook
It may not ordinarily seem like a conflict of interest for a lawyer to accept a friend request from a local judge on Facebook, but if those two legal experts are together in a courtroom to present or hear a case, you can quickly see the clear conflict. This situation actually happened in North Carolina, causing a judicial ethics advisory committee in Florida to issue an opinion that it's okay for judges or lawyers to "like" each other's pages, but not actually become friends on Facebook.
Accessing Info on a Juror's Personal Social Media Page
Just a couple of weeks ago, the American Bar Association weighed in on the use of social media in law, specifically in terms of social media activities associated with members of a jury. Representatives there believe, unless otherwise mandated by a court order, it is generally permissible for lawyers to search for and view information that is publicly available on a juror's social media page before and during a trial.
However, it is not considered ethical for a lawyer to send a friend request to a member of the jury. Doing that would presumably be an effort to get access to a deeper level of information, such as that which is not available to people who are not friends with a particular individual on Facebook.
Forbidding Discussion About a Trial on Social Media
The published formal opinion of the American Bar Association also included a section advising how it is a good idea for members of the jury to be specifically instructed not to discuss a case on social media channels. That may seem like common sense, however, the opinion stated that when there is a small percentage of jurors who are tempted to spill the beans on websites like Twitter and Facebook, frequent warnings against doing that were very effective.
While reflecting on the two case studies above, you may be under the impression that they offer enough reasons for lawyers to steer clear of social media altogether. However, social media can indeed be an effective and worthwhile way for lawyers to communicate with current and potential clients, while also dispensing reliable information to the general public.
For example, a social security law firm could increase the size of its client base by regularly updating its blog with information about the different kinds of social security available. Likewise, lawyers who specialize in personal injury cases might write posts about the steps a person should take immediately after being involved in a car accident.
Another possibility might be to write a post that talks about how important it is to document the various ways in which an accident has adversely affected a victim. A legal professional could make suggestions about keeping a pain diary, keeping track of the number of days that it is impossible to work because of trauma that has been suffered and even making a tally of how much money a victim has had to spend on child care because he or she in dealing with such severe injuries that watching over children has become almost impossible.
Benefits of Blogging
Ideas like these could bolster the reputation of a local law firm for community members by positioning it as a helpful resource, but they aren't likely to land a lawyer in hot water for using social media in an inappropriate way. People often overlook blogging as a form of social media but as you can see from just the two examples outlined above, it does have its advantages. Katherman Briggs and Greenberg is a law firm that serves the state of Pennsylvania, and it has an excellent blog you can reference to see how social media can have a positive effect on the legal industry.
Social media has posed additional challenges for people who work in the field of law, but it can also be beneficial. Whether you are someone who may soon be called to serve on a jury, or just interested in the ways lawyers can use social media to help clients, keep the information you've just read in mind.
Image by Steven Vance