Social media has become part of the fabric of our society, blurring the distinction between personal and professional lives. For legal professionals, this means social media policies for law firms have become a prerequisite for navigating this landscape successfully.
Social media policies for law firms should have clear guidelines that balance employees’ personal freedom with the firm’s obligation to protect client information and legal data. The firm should not dictate its employees’ conduct in their personal lives and on their personal time. However, the firm also needs to avoid legal and ethical issues arising from social media usage. This balancing act is no easy feat.
As the first step in this balancing act, we review some of the benefits of social media policies for law firms. Then we provide guidelines for creating these policies.
What are social media policies for law firms?
A social media policy is a law firm’s outline of internal rules, for employees at all levels, for activity on social media. The goal is to set expectations for appropriate behavior and minimize the firm’s exposure to legal issues, ethical breaches, or public embarrassment. The policy should only guide work-related behavior, without regulating employees’ posts about their personal lives.
A law firm has some unique reasons for needing a robust social media policy. These reasons include professional codes of conduct and legal obligations that are specific to attorneys. The ABA’s (American Bar Association) Model Rules of Professional Conduct contains highly pertinent provisions, such as maintaining confidentiality for information regarding the representation of a client. Accordingly, your firm’s policy must ensure no case details or client information are posted on social media.
Benefits of social media policies for law firms
In this modern digital age, many types of businesses would benefit from social media policies. But law firms have some additional considerations that make such policies even more critical for them.
Maintain client confidentiality
Attorneys and law firms are legally and ethically obligated to maintain client confidentiality. In addition, disclosing confidential information about a client or legal matter would cause most firms to suffer a huge reputational hit. Therefore, a firm’s social media policy should prohibit any social media posts containing the firm’s confidential information, including case details, case outcomes, awards, or client details.
Establish accountability for social media activity
A social media policy also sets a clear standard for firm-related social media usage—all firm employees know the expectations and consequences for violating the policy. Social media activity is inevitably filled with some gray areas for what is acceptable and not acceptable. The firm’s approach must be as consistent as reasonably possible. And this means the policy must be consistently enforced, not just on an ad-hoc basis.
Avoid legal and ethical issues
The firm’s policy also serves to avoid legal or ethical issues that can arise from social media activity. This goes beyond simply maintaining the attorney-client privilege. Attorneys must also be wary of posting anything on social media that could be construed as legal advice. Under the right—or wrong—circumstances, a social media response to a non-client could create an accidental attorney-client relationship. A social media policy can outline what type of social media content is problematic in this regard.
Uphold the firm’s marketing and public relations efforts
Another benefit of a social media policy is supporting the firm’s marketing and public relations efforts by ensuring consistency of the firm’s brand voice. Whether your firm’s brand voice is authoritative, more casual, or something else, it should be consistent across all online and social media content. A social media policy for law firms will make that happen.
How to create a social media policy for law firms
When creating your firm’s policy, it may be helpful to consult a sample social media policy for a law firm. But keep in mind your firm’s policy needs to be customized to the firm’s current circumstances. To that end, the following are some key guidelines for creating your law firm’s social media policy.
Employee usage policies
The first requirement is to broadly address employee usage policies for social media. Any firm-related posts should completely avoid profanity, obscenity, vulgarity, or any other socially unacceptable behavior that would reflect poorly on the firm. Posts should be fact-checked and any errors corrected promptly. It may also be advisable to have specific policies for different platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and so on.
Your employees have a right to privacy and free speech that protects their personal online activity from the firm’s intrusion. However, if they reveal on social media that they work for your law firm, the employee’s otherwise “personal” post may fall under your firm’s policy, since it could be viewed as reflecting on the firm. This is especially true for an expressly work-related platform, such as LinkedIn. A law firm social media policy should make this clear.
Create a designated team of social media posters
To truly get a handle on its social media activity, a law firm should designate a small team of employees who are authorized to place firm-related posts on social media platforms. Their posts should either be on the law firm’s social media account or their own firm-related accounts–not their personal accounts. This is the best way for the law firm to ensure consistency and control over its digital presence.
Policies for marketing and branding
If your firm has a designated marketing team, the social media policy should address the law firm’s brand identity and how the team can conform to that identity. The policy can get even more specific, such as addressing the types of firm activities or results to promote, and which activities should not be publicized.
Dealing with negative responses to social media posts
Any social media posts will inevitably lead to some negative responses, and your law firm’s social media policy should address this situation. The goal is to avoid responding to negative posts with more negative posts, while avoiding escalation and seeking resolution.
Employees should be obligated to consult with firm management before engaging in the conversation. In the event a social media conflict escalates, the policy should designate who will take over on behalf of the firm.
Your social media policy may also include specific guidelines for responding to “trolls”—those posting intentionally provocative or offensive content. Your guidelines should address whether your firm can block the trolls or ignore their posts under certain circumstances.
Prohibition on legal advice through social media
The policy must make clear that no legal professionals may provide any legal advice through social media. This should include their personal accounts, the law firm account, or comments on other users’ posts.
Final thoughts on social media policies for law firms
Social media policies are increasingly the reality for all businesses, but law firms especially have a need for them. Legal professionals are subject to ethical and legal requirements of confidentiality, and they have professional reputations to uphold. Fortunately, there are essential elements that can be included in your law firm’s social media policy that protect your firm and its clients, while advancing the firm’s long-term success.