Posts Tagged ‘facebook’

Cleaning Up Facebook Leads to Sanctions

Wednesday, November 9th, 2011

In a previous post I noted this admonition from an analysis by H. Christopher Boehning and Daniel J. Toal of  a recent article published in the Delaware Law Review, in which attorney Margaret DiBianca ” identified a number of these novel ethical issues:

Upon learning that a client’s social networking site contains information that is potentially harmful to a claim or defense, a lawyer may be tempted to advise the client to remove the harmful content. To do so, however, would risk running afoul of Rule 3.4 (a), and incurring sanctions for spoliation of evidence.

Failure to heed that warning (although the events recounted here likely occurred before the warning appeared in the article) has indeed lead to significant sanctions for an attorney (and the attorney’s client) who directed his paralegal to direct his client to “clean up” his Facebook page. The sanctions? Well, they totaled $722,000 (to be paid presumably out of a $5,000,000 judgment the client had obtain against the defendant in the proceeding in which the sanctions were issued. Here’s more:

”According to a September 1 order from Judge Hogshire, the spoliation began in March 25, 2009, when Murray received a discovery request for the contents of Lester’s Facebook account. Attached was a photo of Lester wearing a ‘I [heart] hot moms” t-shirt, and holding a beer can with other young adults.
Murray instructed a paralegal to tell Lester to ”clean up” his Facebook page because, ”we don’t want blowups of this stuff at trial,” the assistant, Marlina Smith, said in a disposition. She emailed that message to Lester the next day.
On March 26, 2009, according to the judge’s order, Murray came up with a scheme to take down or deactivate Lester’s Facebook account so that he could respond that he has no Facebook page on the date the discovery request was signed.
When defense attorneys filed a motion to compel, Murray instructed Lester to reactivate the account. But in a December 16 2009, deposition, Lester denied deactivating the account.
Murray is also accused of withholding the email from Smith instructing Lester to clean up his Facebook page when he was ordered to produce it shortly before the trial began. Murray falsely claimed after the trial that the omission was the paralegal’s mistake, according to the court order.”

The rest is here from JDJournal.com, but this is enough to bring me to the second point of this story that is worthy of comment:

 “Murray [the attorney] falsely claimed after the trial that the omission was the paralegal’s mistake, according to the court order.”

On second thought, it is probably not in need of comment as it seems to speak volumes all by itself.

“Friending” Your Attorney

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011

I’m doing some catch up on LinkedIn discussion. Know: The Magazine for Paralegals group discussions include this question from Amy:

What do you do when your attorney sends you a Facebook friend request?

One of the new attorneys I work with has sent me a Facebook friend request. What do you guys think? I feel like I can’t turn him down, but then again…not sure that I want one of my bosses on my FB page either. Not that I’m doing anything that is scandalous…just makes me uncomfortable. Any advice??

Most of the advice, quite rightly, is not to friend the attorney. Elona Jouben responded:

I prefer to keep my personal and professional lives separate as much as possible. I don’t even have current non-lawyer co-workers as FB friends. I would tell him in person that you are not comfortable mixing the office w/your personal social media accounts. Telling him in person exemplifies your professionalism, and he has to respect your decision. It’s entirely up to you whether you want to add him to your LinkedIn network. I don’t know if LinkedIn allows you to filter which connections see what activity you have on LI.

(Elona, who usually has good advice on these listserv discussions, is also a contributor to The Empowered Paralegal Professionalism Anthology, schedule for release in the next few weeks. Her contribution is a slightly edited version of her Master Thesis for George Washington University, arguing against paralegal regulation.)

Coincidentally, the “Paralegal Jobs and Continuing Education” LinkedIn group discussion board contains a post by Jolene entitled, “How Facebook can ruin your career.”  There are several posts on this blog on this theme already.  Jolene’s post includes a link to an article shared through “Smartbook” originating in the International Business Times,  entitled, “Why Co-workers Don’t Make Good Facebook Friends.” That the SmartBrief intro notes:

If you’re going to “friend” work colleagues on Facebook, then you need to carefully monitor your content to make sure it’s always upbeat and professional — and not something that could hurt your career, writes Jessica Simko. If you do post comments about how you hate your job, for example, the boss could find out. “Many employees talk and gossip on a regular basis. They can’t help themselves,” she writes.

It should be self-evident that the problem is even worse when the “co-worker” is also a supervising attorney.

One possible solution is to have two separate Facebook presences – one personal and one for business. I have an “Empowered Paralegal” presence and a personal presence on Facebook (although I actually seldom do much on either – probably a sign of my age.) Overall though, I recommend simply declining to intertwine the two at all.  Also, please note that, even without the personal/business mixture, a Facebook presence can be detrimental to your career.

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.

Another Internet Danger to Your Career – Updated

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

ABAJournal.com has a post dealing with an attorney in trouble because of posts on her blog which states in part,

A former Illinois assistant public defender’s blog musings about her difficult clients and clueless judges has landed her in trouble with disciplinary officials.

Kristine Ann Peshek has been accused of revealing client confidences, allegedly for describing her clients in a way that made it possible to identify them. Peshek referred to her clients by either their first names, a derivative of their first names, or by their jail identification numbers, according to the disciplinary complaint filed on Aug. 25. The Legal Profession Blog noted the accusations.

Peshek counters that she would never have posted information that she believed would lead to identification of a client, absent the client’s permission or unless the information is a matter of public record. She tells the ABA Journal she is in the process of hiring a lawyer.

This is, of course, a problem not only for attorneys, but for their paralegals. Less obvious it the fact that it is a problem that extends well beyond blogging to Facebook and other social networks, emails with friends and family and off-line conversations. It is one thing to talk about a difficult, exciting, or interesting “day,” and another to talk about a difficult, exciting or interesting case or client. The latter requires extreme care and in most instances the best advice is “Don’t.” Keep in mind that later the well-known “Monday morning quarterbacks” may be judging whether your musing have cross the line with regard to confidentiality. They will be doing so with the benefit of hind sight and often without the proper context.

It is true that confidentiality is not broken if the client gives permission or the information is part of a public record. But there will be questions:  Do you have a record of the client’s permission? Was the permission given independently with complete knowledge of the facts, circumstances and consequences? Did the client have time to consider all this before giving permission? Was the client influenced by his dependent relationship with you? Was ALL of the information you revealed part of the public records? And many more. The best way not to cross the line is not to come near it.

For more on problems with mixing your professional life and social media see Lynne Devenney’s post “Social Media 101: Mojitos and Mourning Don’t Mix on Facebook” on her blog, Practical Paralegalism.

A New Facebook Page for The Empowered Paralegal – Don’t Get Dooced

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009

At the suggestion of a reader I have set up a Facebook page for The Empowered Paralegal to provide a place for social networking by paralegals interested in the issues raised in this blog, especially those new to “real” networking and in need of some support. I am not real sure how to best use Facebook in this regard, so your input will be much appreciated. However, before you start visiting the page at work read Lynne Devenney post at Practical Paralegalism, Social Media Hazard: Don’t Get “Dooced” from Your Job.

I hope to be back a bit later today with a more substantive post.

A Danger of Social Websites Such as Facebook

Tuesday, September 1st, 2009

ABAJournal.com reports

At a recent meeting, the Florida Board of Bar Examiners voted to review applicants’ social networking sites on a case-by-case basis, focusing on those who have demonstrated problem conduct in the past, reports the Florida Bar News.

Asked by the group’s Character and Fitness Committee whether all Florida bar forms should require applicants to list their social networking sites and grant access to the FBBE, however, the board decided to keep a low profile, according to the article.

Apparently, the board plans to avoid an upfront request to all applicants for access, explaining in a report (PDF) to the Florida Supreme Court that “in reaching this policy, the board reasoned that if applicants are required to provide access to their social websites, they are likely to delete any derogatory material before staff has the opportunity to review it.”

Forewarned is forearmed. Obviously, this applies to the attorneys who may be considering hiring a paralegal rather than paralegals. But, if the Bar is doing this to them, what are the chances they won’t think of doing it to their paralegals? What happens in Vegas, should stay in Vegas. Don’t put it on Facebook, mySpace or similar sites.

Can Facebook Sabotage Your Career?

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

Speaking of California, the April 2009 Fresno Paralegal Association Newsletter
has an excellent article by Vicki Voisin of the Paralegal Mentor entitled “Are You Sabotaging Your Career.” In the article Vicki warns of some of the pitfall of social networking websites:

You are, in essence, dropping clues right and left about yourself and you may be offering too much
information. Many companies (that includes law firms) now use social networking sites to screen prospective hires. They may also use them to check on the behavior of current employees. A simple entry of a name in the Google search box can reveal all kinds of information…some of it may be embarrassing.
Social Networking isn’t just about you. You really have little control over who sees your information. Your contacts have access to it. Their contacts have access. Those contacts have access. You can see how the web widens.

Vicki’s point cannot be overstated. Whenever I’m about to have significant professional dealings with someone new one of my first steps is to do an internet search for information about that individual. Interviewing a new candidate for a position in my office – a person who will have access to confidential information, be the primary contact with my clients and have access to client trust accounts – certainly qualifies as “significant professional dealings.” Consider the likelihood of hiring someone who’s Facebook profile picture show them well “under the influence” at a Jimmy Buffet concert. While a potential employer may understand and even approve of the events that led up to the picture, most employers would question the professionalism and discretion of a person who posts that picture as their first and best impression.

Vicki suggests

Your online presence is a virtual resume. Craft your profi le very carefully so you reveal only positive information. Don’t use a screen name that gives a poor impression. Don’t post pictures or videos you wouldn’t want your mother to see. Delete any photos your friends might post that show you drinking and partying. If any off -color comments are associated with your posts, delete them immediately. Choose your Facebook friends and followers on Twitter wisely. You don’t have to accept every request.

Does this mean you can never have fun or at least never share that fun with your friends? Not at all. However, keep in mind that you have a professional life and a personal life. Keep the two separate even on Facebook, mySpace and Twitter.

There is, of course, a tie-in between Vicki’s story and Chere Estrin’s story discussed in a previous post, “Who Is in Charge of Your Career?” Some of these same issues are also discussed in real-life networking contexts in “Martinis and Professionalism.

The bottom line is that Facebook cannot sabotage your career, but you can. You should be in charge of your career both on and off the internet.

Martinis and Professionalism

Thursday, August 6th, 2009

The Career Couch at The New York Times has some advice for the corporate world that is applicable to the legal profession, especially paralegals, in an article by Eilene Zimmerman entitled, Are Three Martinis Three Too Many?.

Q. You are new to the corporate world and not sure what to do at business functions or after-hour gatherings where alcohol is present. If everyone else is drinking — including your boss — should you drink, too?
Chris Reed

 A. For those new to the professional world, the line between a work event and a social event is often unclear. You may see all the trappings of a party — food, music, even dancing — but any gathering where colleagues are present is business and you should stay sharp and avoid alcohol, said Jody Queen-Hubert, executive director of cooperative education and career services at Pace University in New York.

“Don’t be fooled,” she warned. “You are always being scrutinized by colleagues, so professionalism at all times is a must.”

Cy Wakeman, president of a human resources consulting firm bearing her name in Sioux City, Iowa, says that when it comes to drinking with colleagues, “the risk is very high that something negative will come out of it.” She says that it’s acceptable to have one or two drinks but that it is best to stop there.

“I even advise staying out of photographs with groups of people drinking,” she added, “because it could wind up online somewhere, like Facebook.”

Everyone you interact with while drinking has the potential to affect your career. A colleague today may be your manager six months from now and will likely recall any indecorous behavior.

If colleagues regularly have drinks after work, order what everyone else is having but sip it slowly. “Make it last all night,” Ms. Queen-Hubert said. “Holding a drink without drinking is a way to feel like part of the crowd without compromising your judgment.”

Personally, I am a big fan of martinis, but there is a time and place for them. Work-related social functions, especially lunch, are not the proper time or place for paralegals who want to maintain professional status.

Check out the Times story for more advice on this topic.

Facebook Ethical Issues

Monday, August 3rd, 2009

Paralegal Gateway’s Weblog has an interesting post on potential ethical issues arising from the use of Facebook by members of the legal profession. Entitled “Lawyer Cannot Ask Paralegal to ‘Facebook Friend’ A Witness,” the post includes, “The Philadelphia Bar Association Professional Guidance Committee hustled out its Opinion 2009-02 which held that a lawyer could not ask a “third person” (presumably a paralegal or office employee) to Facebook-friend a deposition witness so the lawyer could surreptitiously access the witness’ Facebook page….The Philly Bar concluded that this was improperly deceptive under their Rule 8.4…”

You might think that the paralegal/attorney relationship, being somewhat personal in natural would not entail much by way of formal ethical discussion.  However, that relationship can be the source of some of the most difficult ethical decisions a paralegal has to make: What do I do if I know my attorney is violating the Rules of Ethical Conduct and/or a law? And, even worse, what do I do if my attorney asks me to do something ethical?

Fortunately, you can find some guidance in the ethical codes of various paralegal associations. In an earlier post I discussed the importance of you, as a professional, belonging to one or more of these associations and participating in their listservs, reading their journals and the like. The ethical codes of these organizations are not laws, but they do provide a good framework to use in facing these difficult issues.

Some common sense must be invoked in interpreting the language of the code. The attorney asking you to tell a client he is in court when he is really in his office is dishonest, but is not likely to rise to the level requiring (or even suggesting) reporting.

As stated above, these codes do not have the force of law. In particular situation you may want to seek legal advice yourself. Some states do have particular laws making failure to report certain actions such as judicial bribery, a crime.  However, for the most part, it is really of a matter of ethics rather than legal consequence for the paralegal (unlike an attorney who can lose his license.)  In most cases it is going to be a matter of balancing your personal interest (you will likely lose your job if for no other reason than the attorney may lose his license), against your personal integrity, protecting the public and maintaining the integrity of the legal profession.  In the end, I would hope that personal integrity wins out over personal interests, but you must be the judge in each situation.

If you do decide to report, I do suggest obtaining legal advice first from an attorney outside of the one in which you work. Remember that attorney has a firm obligation to keep what you tell her confidential. That attorney can advise you regarding protections to which you may be entitled, the proper authority to which you should report and the correct procedures for reporting.  Generally, you will receive immunity from being sued by your employer for slander and libel, and may be entitled to certain protections against on-the-job retaliation under “Whistleblower” laws. She will help you analyze the situation to determine whether you have the necessary facts, have properly interpreted the facts and validate your decision regarding the proper balancing of interest and integrity.