Informing your clients about good social media practices

January 16, 2013

As we all know, managing an effective presence on Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms can reap many rewards for a small firm, including bringing in new clients and establishing credibility in a community.

But social media can also present a challenge to attorneys, especially in practice areas where discretion is of high importance.

From posts and locations to photos and videos, the data posted on social networking sites can be damaging in both civil and criminal law cases.

For example, incriminating evidence to be used in family law cases is now easier than ever to find on Facebook. In fact, a recent study from the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers found that more than 80 percent of divorce attorneys said evidence gathered from social media websites has increased significantly since 2006.

Social media has also been provided evidence used to suggest that parties involved in workers’ compensation or personal injury cases were less hurt than they claimed. For example, if an employee who files a workers’ compensation claim for an injured back and then posts a photo of himself in a weightlifting competition, it could hurt his case.

Finally, we have all heard the news reports of suspected criminals who Tweet confessions or share videos of criminal activity on YouTube. In Nebraska, police caught a teen bank robber after she had video blogged about the robbery and posted it to YouTube with the title “Chick Bank Robber”.

The bottom line is that social media has a significant connection with the law — and probably your practice.

With that said, here are a few tips for informing your clients about good social media practices:

1. A Private Profile might not mean Private

Make sure your clients know that anything they post online is traceable and could end up being used as evidence against them in any type of case, criminal or civil. Although the sites may feel private, a court has yet to bar gathering of information from unprotected social networking sites.

2. Careful what you say/ write

Tell your clients to avoid using social media when their emotions are running high. We all say things we don’t mean, but when it’s said on social media for the world to see, the consequences can be much more severe.

Rule of thumb: If you wouldn’t want the judge to see it, don’t post it.

3.  Avoid using it

If at all possible, convince clients to ditch social media while a case is pending. This is the only way to assure that an emotionally-charged post or questionable photo won’t wreak havoc on their case. At the very least, clients should be advised to choose the highest security settings on their accounts.

Although some people in the legal field would prefer if social media was a passing fad, it’s pretty clear that society is only becoming more attached to social networking.

For that reason, it’s important to understand how it can work both for and against your law practice.