Social media has quickly become a preferred way to communicate with one another. The pandemic has made it an even more necessary form of communication. Today, law firms are taking advantage of these platforms as well. For many practices, these social media platforms have become the new reception area. To potential clients, they often represent the first interaction with the firm. People routinely search the internet, check out the firm website, and then visit social media for more information. The influence of social media cannot be overlooked, especially when sites like LinkedIn have grown to over 700 million users.
However, firms must always take precautions to protect themselves against potential ethics violations they may face while using social media to promote their services. Employees utilizing these networks outside of normal business hours can also pose a risk. When using any social media platform, therefore, it is important that all employees be well-versed in what to do and what not to do — even when posting from one’s personal profile.
Confidential Information/Legal Liability Issues
The most common yet most dangerous legal issue regarding social media is the disclosure of confidential information, whether it be proprietary information about the practice, or confidential information about the firm’s clients.
Most people are familiar with the term “attorney-client privilege,” which, by law, protects all confidential communications between a client and their lawyer. While legal assistants are not lawyers, there exists an “ethical code of conduct,” which must be adhered to by all legal professionals with regard to their dealings with clients. These ethical obligations are meant to hold attorneys accountable for the conduct of their employees.
Lawsuits have been filed against law firms when legal assistants have posted confidential client information on social media. One substantial lawsuit could easily jeopardize a business and potentially bankrupt it.
When an employee posts anything on social media, it should be considered available to everyone, no matter what technological privacy tools are in place. Therefore, supervisors must be especially careful not to post anything that might be perceived as discrimination or harassment toward their firm’s employees or business partners. Even more so because social media posts can be used as evidence. So, if employees, particularly managers, use social media to make discriminatory comments or to harass employees in a protected class, the firm can be held liable.
All employees must understand exactly what is confidential, such as trade secrets and financial information. They need to know what information can and cannot be discussed outside the company. Make sure your employees understand what information cannot be disclosed at the risk of revealing anything pertaining to intellectual property.
Using statements that could defame a business is another legal issue rampant on social media. It is common for employees, when leaving a company, to post negative comments about their former employer on social media. However, this may affect the employee’s current employer, who could be sued for defamation. It is, therefore, advisable not to post any such negative comments on social media. Even anonymous posts can be traced to discover the identity of the person posting.
Because it is unrealistic to expect employees to avoid social media, they should be advised to post with caution. Often, a post can be misinterpreted to express something different than what the person posting intended. The best communication is body language and voice inflection. What is written represents less than 10% of effective communication. Therefore, it is prudent to review posts prior to posting, and to remove anything that may be incorrectly interpreted or misconstrued.
Other Personal Information
Personal information about employees or clients should not be discussed on social media. Many laws have been enacted to ensure that no one shares medical or financial information as well as sexual preferences. Agism has become a legal issue as well. It’s best to refrain from posting this kind of information to avoid issues for your firm.
Some monitoring of social media by an employer may be necessary to protect the firm from the unauthorized release of any proprietary information. Google Alerts is a great tool to utilize for monitoring purposes. It can be set up for key employees, so that current posts about them can be routinely reviewed by a member of the human resource department. It’s important to note, however, that this tool is rather limited depending on whether an employee’s profile is public (and can therefore be crawled by the search engines) or private.
It is important to understand these issues and train employees to act professionally. When in doubt, it is probably best not to post. All employees should be regularly educated on what is confidential information, and on what can and cannot be posted on social media platforms. All of these issues should be included as part of employee orientation. The curriculum should be regularly administered and reviewed by an attorney. It is imperative for everyone to practice self-control and act prudently when active on any social media platform. Know the platform, know how to properly remove a post, and know the audience.