Wisconsin Lawyer: Ethics Advertising Rules Apply to Lawyers’ Personal Social Media Pages:

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  • Wisconsin Lawyer
    June
    01
    2014

    Ethics
    Advertising Rules Apply to Lawyers’ Personal Social Media Pages

    Dean R. Dietrich

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    The Wisconsin Rules of Professional Conduct apply to all communications about lawyers’ services but Wisconsin lawyers should look to other states for very specific guidelines about the use of social media to communicate about their firms and professional work.

    Social media iconsQuestion

    I post information about my law practice on my personal Facebook and LinkedIn pages. Are these postings subject to the advertising rules if they are on my personal pages?

    Answer

    The use of Facebook and LinkedIn to advertise about lawyer services is the subject of a great deal of debate and discussion as these social media sites become more available and more useful for lawyers to communicate about their services. The general answer to your question is that any communication about your legal services is covered by the Wisconsin Rules of Professional Conduct. When you use your personal Facebook page or LinkedIn to talk about your lawyer services, you must follow the same advertising rules (found in SCR 20:7.1–7.4) as you do when putting information on your law firm Web page or in your Yellow Pages ad.

    The Florida Bar Standing Committee on Advertising (the committee) has published guidelines for lawyers’ use of network sites to talk about their legal services. The committee’s guidelines include the following:

    • Individual pages on social networking sites that are used solely for social purposes such as to maintain contact with family and close friends are not subject to the lawyer advertising rules.

    • Network pages appearing on networking sites that are used to promote a lawyer or a law firm’s practice are subject to the lawyer advertising rules and must comply with all aspects of lawyer advertising, including prohibitions against any misleading information.

    • Invitations sent directly from a social media site by instant messaging to a third party to view or to link to the lawyer’s media page and done on an unsolicited basis for the purpose of trying to obtain representation are considered solicitations that would violate SCR 20:7.3 unless the recipient is a current client, a family member, someone who has a prior professional relationship with the lawyer, or another lawyer.

    • Any invitations to view a network page that are sent by email must comply with the direct-solicitation rules if they are sent to a person who is not a current client or who has not requested information from the attorney.

    • A lawyer is not responsible for information that is posted on the lawyer’s social network page by another person unless the lawyer prompts the other person to post the information or the lawyer uses the other person to circumvent the lawyer advertising rule. If a third party posts information that is not accurate or violates the advertising rules, the lawyer must remove the information as soon as he or she becomes aware of the inaccuracy or violation.

    • If the lawyer becomes aware that a third party has posted inappropriate or inaccurate information on another media page that the lawyer does not control, the lawyer must attempt to contact the third party to ask that the information be removed and make every reasonable effort to have the information removed.

    • Information that is posted on Twitter is generally covered by the lawyer advertising rules. Because people choose to receive Twitter posts, a lawyer would not be required to send the Twitter post to the state’s lawyer regulatory board as a direct solicitation communication to a prospective client.

    A recent decision by a New Jersey federal district court further clarified the types of information a lawyer may post on media sites. The court upheld a New Jersey advertising guideline stating that a lawyer or law firm may not include quotations or excerpts from a court opinion about the attorney’s abilities or legal services on the lawyer’s Web page or media page. The lawyer may provide a full text of an opinion that includes comments regarding the lawyer’s legal abilities or services.

    Although this rule does not exist in Wisconsin, the decision offers a good suggestion as to best practices for Wisconsin lawyers deciding whether information is appropriate for placement on a Web page or other social media.

    Dean R. Dietrichcom ddietrich ruderware Dean R. Dietrich, Marquette 1977, of Ruder Ware, Wausau, is past chair of the State Bar Professional Ethics Committee.

    Lawyers must remember that the Wisconsin advertising rules have a strict definition of what is false or misleading information. See SCR 20:7.1. Wisconsin lawyers also must indicate on a posting if an endorsement is being made by a client and if any type of payment is being made by the lawyer in exchange for the endorsement.

    The use of social media to advertise lawyer services is ever-changing. It is important for lawyers to keep abreast of the lawyer advertising rules to avoid violating the Wisconsin Rules of Professional Conduct.