As law firms started using social media, they realized the necessity of separating the professional from the personal and began developing social media policies. Doing this requires more thought than one might expect. More than "don't be dumb," a good social media policy is a balance of mitigating risk while at the same time allowing an attorney's personality to shine through as they work to bring in business.
This isn't a one size fits all situation; policies vary widely from firm to firm. Here are just a few of the considerations that need to be addressed when crafting a social media policy for your firm:
- Brand: How conservative is your firm's brand?
- Clients: What is your client base makeup? Do you serve entrepreneurs and tech, or banks and hedge funds?
- ABA: what are the state rules where your lawyers practice?
- Training: How much do you plan to invest in training your attorneys on the proper use of social media? What about providing ongoing social media advisors?
- Monitoring: Are you going to monitor what is being said on social media by attorneys at your firm? What about enforcing your rules when they are violated?
- Crisis response plan: are you prepared to handle things if they go sideways?
This fledgling attorney quickly found out his social media posts were available to everyone to see - including his employer.
I've seen one-page policies and five-page policies; only your firm can determine what makes the most sense. As a jumping-off point for anyone starting from scratch, I'm sharing a policy I developed with a 420-attorney law firm's general counsel. You will see there are references to related policies scattered throughout the sample because social media has many parallels with other issues (including Anti-Discrimination, Anti-Harassment, Information Security...the list goes on).
I also developed guidelines to go along with the policy, because policies contain the rules, whereas guidelines and training address the art.
(Find more law firm social media policy reading and examples here: Jaffe PR, The Byrne Blog, and Bloomberg Law.)
SAMPLE: Law Firm Social Media Policy
The purpose of this policy is to address the rules regarding the publication of materials by an attorney or staff member that in any way relates to or identifies the author's association with the firm. The firm is aware that attorneys and staff may use social media to contribute professional content in support of their business development efforts.
Additionally, the firm is aware of the obligations with regard to protected activity under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), and none of the prohibitions contained in this policy are intended to infringe upon your rights under the NLRA. More specifically, nothing in this policy is intended to infringe upon any employee's right to engage in NLRA-protected activity that involves the discussion of wages or working conditions. Any such NLRA-protected activity is not a violation of this policy.
Publication, for purposes of this policy, means posting or causing to be posted, any article, comment, blog entry, photograph, video, or any other publishable media on the Internet by an attorney or staff member that in any way relates to or identifies the author's association with the firm.
Social media, for purposes of this policy, is defined as all means of communicating or posting information or content of any sort on the Internet, including to your own or someone else's blog, journal or diary, personal website, social networking or affinity website, web bulletin board, or chat room, including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and any other type of online media or online forum that is now or hereafter becomes available on the Internet.
Please keep in mind that the same principles and guidelines found in firm policies apply to your activities online. Before creating online content, consider some of the risks and rewards that are involved. Keep in mind that any of your conduct that adversely affects your job performance, the performance of fellow employees/partners, or otherwise adversely affects our clients or the firm's legitimate business interests may result in disciplinary action, up to and including termination.
Your use of a firm email address, firm domain name, or any other online reference that indicates your affiliation with the firm could potentially implicate the firm's reputation and brand or could otherwise affect the firm. All attorneys and staff are accountable to the firm for such online references. Ultimately, you are personally responsible for what you publish or post on social media.
You should refer to the Social Media Guidelines [linked], which provide instructions and best practices when using social media for business development purposes.
Rules Applicable to Everyone
- Be aware of and comply with the firm's and your professional obligations when publishing any information on social media.
- Ensure that any use of social media maintains the confidentiality of the firm's and its client's confidential or proprietary information, in accordance with the firm's Confidentiality Policy.
- Adhere to all copyright and fair use laws and all other applicable local, state, and federal laws when publishing any information on social media. You must credit appropriately by identifying all copyrighted or borrowed material with citations and links on social media. When publishing any material on social media that includes the author's direct or paraphrased quotes, thoughts, ideas, photos, or videos, you must always give credit to the original material or author, where applicable.
- Fact-check your posts and evaluate your contribution's accuracy and truthfulness before publishing on social media.
- Comply with all firm policies when publishing on social media or when using firm technology for social media participation, including but not limited to, the firm's Anti Discrimination Policy, Anti-Harassment Policy, External Employment Policy, and Personal Information Security Policy.
- Comply with the Articles Byline Policy before publishing any article on social media.
- Consult with the Marketing & Business Development Department under the circumstances described below.
- Disclose your identity and your professional interest and never create an alias or be anonymous when participating in social media on behalf of the firm.
- Be transparent about the fact that you are an employee and make it clear that you are not speaking on behalf of, and your views do not represent those of the firm, fellow employees, or our clients if you post information on your personal social media related to your work or subjects associated with the firm. You should include a disclaimer such as: "The postings on this site are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of [Firm Name] or any of its clients."
You must not:
- Use social media to engage in illegal activities or deceptive conduct.
- Misrepresent yourself as a spokesperson for the firm if your use of social media is not officially sanctioned by the firm.
- Use false or misleading information in your online credentials. You must maintain complete accuracy in all of your online bios and ensure that there is no embellishment. Additionally, you must not describe your position at the firm inaccurately. For example, you must not describe your position at the firm as "The Boss," "Head Dude," or any other title that is not accurate.
- Knowingly or recklessly publish any false information about the firm, its employees, or clients.
- Attribute any information that you post on your personal social media or under your personal email address to the firm or create the appearance that any such content is endorsed by or originated from the firm.
- Create a link from your personal blog, website, or other social media to the firm's website without identifying yourself as an employee.
- Use social media to communicate with existing firm clients regarding any confidential and/or privileged matters.
- Discuss specific firm clients or their employees on social media without written authorization from the client.
- Use the firm's network to influence polls, rankings, or web traffic.
- Create a "ghost" identity to influence polls, post anonymously or leave posts to artificially support something you've written on social media on behalf of the firm.
- "Friend" or "link to" anyone whom you either do not know or with whom you have not previously corresponded when you are using social media with the firm's email or professional identification.
Additional Rules Applicable to Attorneys
In addition to the rules applicable to everyone, if you are an attorney, you must:
- Comply with relevant firm policies regarding new business intake before providing legal advice or services through social media.
- Include the appropriate legal disclaimer for any posting on social media on behalf of the firm, which can be obtained from the Marketing & Business Development Department.
- Retain copies of all professional communications on social media, including blog entries posted under the firm's name, and forward the webpage URL to the Marketing & Business Development Department.
- Comply with all applicable Rules of Professional Conduct when using social media including, but not limited to, the following:
- Be aware of and comply with the rules limiting contacts with certain individuals when you offer or accept contacts or "friends" in a social network. Communications through social media could implicate rules limiting contacts with judges, jurors, unrepresented parties, or parties known to be represented by other attorneys.
- Be aware of and comply with the rules regarding what constitutes advertising for purposes of the Rules of Professional Conduct if the communications are intended to provide information about you and/or your legal ser Contact the Marketing & Business Development Department for more information about whether the applicable rules permit a particular online submission by an attorney.
- Be aware of and comply with the rules regarding attorney-client relationship or and confidentiality/promise of confidentiality. The use of social media to receive confidential information and/or to provide legal advice could give rise to an unintended attorney-client relationship or other promises of confidentiality.
Required Consultation with Marketing and Business Development Department
You must contact the Marketing & Business Development Department under the following circumstances:
- Before publishing on social media on behalf of the firm, e.g., preparing an article or other written contribution to any social media for publication, whether or not assistance is needed from Marketing to place the material.
- Before publishing on social media a testimonial relating to the firm or to you.
- Before publishing on social media about billing rates or fee arrangements.
- If you are contacted online directly by a journalist regarding issues of concern to the firm, you should contact the Manager of Public Relations before responding to the media on the firm's behalf. All media inquiries should be directed to the Manager of Public Relations. See the firm's Media Call Response Policy for more information.
Contact the Director of Marketing Technology for additional information regarding this policy.
SAMPLE: Law Firm Social Media Guidelines
These Guidelines supplement the Firm's Social Media Policy. which addresses mandatory requirements applicable to all attorneys and all employees in the Firm.
The purpose of these Guidelines is to provide best practices for publishing on social media on behalf of [Firm Name] so as to effectively navigate your soda/ media footprint. These Guidelines should be read together with the Social Media Policy.
Publication, for purposes of these Guidelines, means posting or causing to be posted, any article, comment, blog entry, photograph, video, or any other publishable media on the Internet by an attorney or staff member that in any way relates to or identifies the author's association with [Firm Name].
Social media, for purposes of these Guidelines, means all means of communicating or posting information or content of any sort on the Internet, including to your own or someone else's web blog, journal or diary, personal web site, social networking or affinity web site, web bulletin board or in a chat room, including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, YouTube, and any other type of online media or online forum that is now or hereafter becomes available on the Internet.
General Guidelines for Social Media
- Avoid forums where there is little control over what you know to be confidential information. Be selective and thoughtful about where you post and how (or if) you reply to others' posts.
- Remember that data lasts forever on the Internet. You should never post anything you would not be comfortable reading on the front page of a major daily newspaper.
Follow the Rules
- Follow the Firm's Social Media Policy.
- Follow the terms and conditions of use that have been established by each venue used for your social networking activities.
- Use the words "expert" or "specialized" sparingly and only when such claims can be substantiated and are approved for usage by the applicable Rules of Professional Conduct.
Creating and Managing Content
- Have a point of view. Be direct, informative, and brief. Write in the first-person and provide a unique perspective.
- Leverage your efforts. Post Twitter and blog links on your Linkedin and Facebook pages and vice versa.
- When publishing on social media, refrain from publishing about controversial or potentially inflammatory subjects, including politics, religion, or any other non-business related issues.
- Keep the tone of your comments respectful and informative, never condescending, sarcastic, or "LOUD" (all caps).
- Avoid personal attacks, online fights, and hostile communications when using social media. If a blogger or other online influencer posts a statement with which you disagree, voice your opinion but do not escalate the conversation into a heated argument. Write reasonably, factually (not an opinion), and with good humor. Understand and credit the other person's point of view and avoid any communications that could result in personal, professional, or credibility attacks.
- If in doubt, don't comment!
Building Your Virtual Footprint and Your Network
- Build a reputation of trust among your clients, media, and the public. When you reach out to journalists, bloggers, clients, or colleagues through social media, take every opportunity to build a reputation of trust and establish yourself as a credible and transparent legal professional.