Posts Tagged ‘danger’

More Social Media Dangers

Saturday, February 5th, 2011

From time to time I’ve posted here on the dangers facing paralegals using social media, although I usually leave social media to Lynne Devenney at Practical Paralegalism because she covers it so well. However, the coincidence of a discussion on the Paralegal Today listserv and an article in the ABA Journal lead me to the topic for today’s post.

The listserv discussion began with a “venting” post by a paralegal. The vent itself was not bad and seemed to cover a legitimate gripe. However, one commenter soon noted, “Should you get a really vengeful supervisor — it would not be a good idea for you to have in writing this stuff with the firm name attached. You guys all know this – email has become as common place as talking now days…. and you don’t know who else is reading…… just a word to the wise – THANSK! deb”  This, in turn, prompted another post, “What a world when we have to live in fear of “what if my supervisor is lurking here to see what I say about my job?” Do you really think they have the time to be concerned with this?”  Most recently, Linda Whipple posted another of her insightful comments:

Nastynady the advice about venting about your boss in this particular vent is very smart advice. If you go back to her initial “vent” on this list serve she used her firm’s signature which is a dead giveaway if anyone in her firm or from a firm in her town decided to forward it to her boss directly. She would have been better served venting under an email “handle” such as nastynady rather than her own name with her firm’s name anywhere in that email. That is a dangerous game in today’s job market and the Venting came dangerously close to libel which could cost her more than her job. If members want to vent on this list serve by all means do so but don’t make it obvious as to who you are or who you are venting about. I just read in the news of a very similar situation that occurred locally here and the employee then sued the firm for wrongful termination. The jury wasn’t impressed and found for the employer. The article pointed out the employee in the end of the day also ruined her name as well as having dragged the firm thru a cmpletely avoidable termnation and lawsuit just by using “good judgment”. In our member’s situation I hope we don’t get a follow up venting over the loss of her job . . . . Just my 2 cents.

The advice from Linda and deb is good advice, a point emphasized by the ABA Journal article I referenced in the beginning entitled, “Seduced: For Lawyers, the Appeal of Social Media is Obvious. It is also Dangerous.” While the danger is depicted through lawyer examples, the basic point applies to paralegals. Examples include:

Sean W. Conway  who thought he was writing an ordinary blog post never suspecting he would wind up facing ethics charges.

“I felt completely within my rights as a citizen, exposing what I thought was an injustice,” he says. It seemed to the then-35-year-old defense attorney that a Florida circuit court judge was methodically depriving criminal defendants of their right to a speedy trial. Instead of allowing them four or five weeks to prepare for trial, as was routine, Judge Cheryl Alemán was asking defendants whether they were ready for trial only about a week after their arraignment, according to Conway.

His post, according to the Florida,  violated five ethics rules and  the Florida Supreme Court rejected the argument his statements were protected by the First Amendment. this. The result: a public reprimand and a fine of $1,250.

B. Carlton Terry Jr.,  North Carolina judge was publicly reprimanded by the state’s Judicial Standards Commission for becoming  a Facebook friend of an attorney appearing in a case before the him, and the two men exchanged a few brief online comments regarding the proceeding.

Kristine A. Peshek, an assistant public defender, blogged about the cases she worked on. ABA Journal reports, “Because she allegedly revealed confidential client information, Peshek was fired and then charged with violating legal ethics.”

The examples are not limited to attorneys. The article goes on to note:

Linda Lea Viken, a family law specialist who heads the Viken Law Firm in Rapid City, S.D., offers examples from her practice and that of her colleagues:

• A wife discovered her spouse was philandering when she went to his Facebook page, found a picture of him with another woman, then clicked on the picture and was taken to the other woman’s page. That displayed a picture of the pair drinking and embracing in a more-than-friendly fashion.

• A spouse is supposed to be watching the kids but is partying instead. Then a video of the spouse at the party is posted on YouTube.

• A mother, fighting for child custody, claimed the father had a terrible temper. The father denied it on the stand, then was confronted with a self-description he had posted on his Facebook page: “If you have the balls to get in my face, I’ll kick your ass into submission.”

But apparently a paralegal could cause problems not just by dissing their attorneys, but by praising them too highly:

Consider, for instance, an attorney who has a listing on LinkedIn. All the information she posts about herself must be correct or she will violate Rule 7.1. But what about information posted by others? LinkedIn (and some other social media) allows users to “recommend” others and praise their work. If a client posts a wonderful recommendation, must that praise comply with Rule 7.1?

Yes, according to the Ethics Advisory Committee of the South Carolina Bar, which stated in Ethics Advisory Opinion 09-10 (2009) that any such recommendation must not “create unjustified expectations or otherwise mislead a prospective client.” The Ohio Board of Com missioners on Grievances and Discipline also issued an opinion to the same effect, No. 2000-6 (2000).

Ethics rules might require even more from attorneys. The South Carolina Bar stated, in Advisory Opinion 99-09 (1999), that a lawyer must act against too-favorable comments posted by a client on the client’s own online site. Once a lawyer learns of these comments, the lawyer must tell the client to conform its statements to the ethics rules. If the client refuses, the lawyer must stop representing the client, or the lawyer will be deemed to have authorized or adopted the comments.

I assume the same would apply to comments made by a paralegal on a listserv or on their own Facebook page!

Bottom line is that the dangers of social media use are many and often not obvious. The ABA Journal article is long and I’ve only included brief excerpts here. I do suggest taking the time to read the whole piece.

Another Facebook Faux Pas

Monday, May 17th, 2010

A fairly frequent topic here is the danger posed by social media and the use of the internet in general. Obviously I’m a big fan of the internet – tough to blog without some good feeling about the internet. But any legal professional needs be mindful of the dangers of the internet. In essence, a professional must be professional on the internet because the line separating professional and personal lives hardly exists there. Lynne Devenney of Practical Paralegalismprovides today’s lesson in this regard. As always, Lynne adds to the lesson with words of wisdom. I have a lot of writing to do tonight, so I’ll not say more.

Click here to get the lowdown from Lynne: How to Get Fired on Facebook 101.

Online Ethics – Updated

Tuesday, May 11th, 2010

We’ve spoken here previously about some of the perils of internet use in the law office. Today I am passing on a story from ABAJournal.com entitled, “Ethics Officials Seeing More Cases from Lawyers’ Online Foibles.” It is about lawyers, but is just as applicable to paralegals:

Lawyers who are more circumspect in person are making online mistakes that are landing them in trouble with ethics officials.

James Grogan, chief counsel of the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, recalls an early case that got the attention of bar counsel in more than one state, the National Law Journal reports. Steven Belcher, a temporary lawyer at a St. Louis law firm who was licensed in three states, was helping defend a wrongful death case when he decided to e-mail a picture of the deceased to a friend, the story says. The body of the overweight man was pictured lying naked on an emergency room table. Belcher added his own commentary.

The result was a 60-day suspension, the story says. “It got our eyebrows up,” Grogan told the publication. “We thought, ‘Wow, are we going to see more of these?’ Well, I think it’s clear we are starting to see more.”

The story notes an increase in interest in the issue. Bar associations and bar counsel hold seminars on online ethical mistakes, and the ABA Commission on Ethics 20/20 will consider whether existing ethics rules adequately address online transgressions.

“It’s not as if lawyers never misbehaved before,” the story says. “But now they’re making the same old mistakes—soliciting for sex, slamming judges, talking trash about clients —online, leaving a digital trail for bar counsel to follow.”

Susan Gainen’s Lawyerist.com post, “6 Rules for Protecting Confidential Information” (brought to my attention by Lynne Devenney at Practical Paralegalism) is well worth the read in this regard. Her first two rules are:

1. Your conversations. Never talk about clients or client business outside of the office. The guy at the table next to you knows EXACTLY who you are talking about because his client is on the other side of the deal.

2. Your tweets or blog posts. Tweeting or blogging about your work are very smart business development tools, but they are also fraught with peril. Robert Ambrogi lists 16 good reasons to Tweet, but notes: “Before you post to Twitter, consider the consequences. A casual tool such as this makes it easy to unwittingly create an attorney-client relationship or overstep an ethical rule. Even with only 140 characters, you can easily get yourself in hot water.”

The point is that “online” is “outside the office” even if you are sitting in the office when you blog, tweet, email, or otherwise reveal information. Unless your system is secure, even internal communications may be exposed to the “outside.”

Update:

Just an additional thought from Steve Lohr’s story in the New York Times on the Library of Congress archiving Twitter messages:

Knowing that the Library of Congress will be preserving Twitter messages for posterity could subtly alter the habits of some users, said Paul Saffo, a visiting scholar at Stanford who specializes in technology’s effect on society.

“After all,” Mr. Saffo said, “your indiscretions will be able to be seen by generations and generations of graduate students.”

People thinking before they post on Twitter: now that would be historic indeed.