Posts Tagged ‘internet’

Another Problem with Social Networks – Not Using Them Enough!

Wednesday, August 17th, 2011

Through posts from Patti’s Paralegal Page and Lawyerist.comI read “Ethical Bounds of Using Evidence From Social Networks” at Law.com. While much of the article covers well-tred ground (especially by Lynne DeVenny of Practical Paralegalism. But this article by H. Christopher Boehning and Daniel J. Toal includes analysis of  a recent article published in the Delaware Law Review, in which attorney Margaret DiBianca ” identified a number of these novel ethical issues.” In essence the article points out that given the prevalence of social networking, it may be a violation of an attorney’s ethical obligations of competent representation, diligent representation, and preservation of evidence not to become of aware of evidence available on social network sites for all parties to litigation. For example, they point out, ”

Preservation of evidence. Under Rule 3.4 (a) (1) of New York’s Code of Professional Conduct, a lawyer may “not suppress any evidence that the lawyer or the client has an obligation to reveal or produce.” The duty to preserve relevant evidence — including “computerized information” — attaches upon the reasonable foreseeability of litigation.

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.[FOOTNOTE 12] To do so, however, would risk running afoul of Rule 3.4 (a), and incurring sanctions for spoliation of evidence.[FOOTNOTE 13]

A lawyer cannot, however, attempt to preserve that which he does not know exists. This is yet another reason why lawyers should familiarize themselves with clients’ online activities — to ensure compliance with the rules of discovery.

Since checking the internet for possible evidence is typically a paralegal’s job, take a moment to click through and read the entire article. Then make an addition to your case startup checklist!

Blogging from Paralegal Hell

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

There’s another new blog in the paralegal neighborhood entitled “Paralegal Hell.”  You may have noted the blogger’s comment to my last post about a new blog, “Paralegals on Trial,” but I have removed the comment because it identified the blogger. In an email to me, Paralegal states that the blog helps her relieve stress. She notes, “I do have a sarcastic bite to my blog, but if you read the actual conversations I have with my clients, you will understand why.”

The blog does provide an interesting read and will likely provide stress relief for paralegals who follow the blogger’s candid reports of some of the most frustrating aspects of legal work for all involved in the profession. Many of those frustrations come from clients, making client management a significant topic in my first two books and a frequent topic in workshops and seminars.

While I’m sure to read the blog on a regular basis, there is some danger to relieving stress by reporting office occurrences, even anonymously, on the internet, as reported in previous posts on this blog.  Consider this for example,

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.

One good aspect of the blog is that the blogger manages to maintain the sarcasm, while making it clear she still enjoys her career. Another is that the blogger takes an occasional serious turn such as her excellent post on payday lenders. While it will be better if clients do not read most of the posts on her blog -one may recognize themselves and get angry, all clients should read the post on payday lenders.

Professional Advice from Arizona

Sunday, June 13th, 2010

azcentral.com has an article by Justin Doom that collects advice for persons working in offices from local experts including a Phoenix-area firm that specializes in recruiting attorneys, paralegals and receptionists. The advice is much like that given in this blog, but worth the read for the emphasis and clarity of presentation. While cast as “Mistakes to avoid if you want to move up,” it is basic advice regarding professionalism. Here are the headers:

• Be aware of office politics.

• Communicate effectively.

• Hustle and show initiative.

• Sick pay is for actual sick time.

• Avoid excessive breaks.

• Stay off the Internet.

• Dress professionally.

• Be careful with e-mail.

Read more: http://www.azcentral.com/business/articles/2010/06/12/20100612career-mistakes0613.html#ixzz0qkTobekD

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.

Discussion Forum Civility

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009

The holiday break has provided an opportunity to catch up a bit on various discussion forums and comments to posts on some of the blogs I frequent. Perhaps it is just the holiday spirit catching up with some participants, but the threads often seem to turn to discussions of the lack of civility on the part of many of the persons posting comments. This lack of civility – from simple name-calling to outpourings of pure vitriol – is common on political and news blogs and does not speak well of the state of political discussion in our country today, not only because it emphasizes what divides us rather than what binds us together, but because it seems to arise out of an inability of those persons to make their case based on facts, evidence and sound reasoning. This is bad enough when practiced by the general public, but of greater concern when it appears in legal and paralegal forums and blogs such as Paralegal Today and Above the Law. Indeed, the increasing lack of civility within the legal community has led some federal district courts to sponsor seminars dealing with the topic!

One problem with this lack of civility is that it the posts become a public record. Certainly, everyone who posts on the internet should be aware that anything they post on the internet can ultimately affect their careers. Several posts on this blog have dealt with this danger. However, it seems to me that the greater danger to those persons stems from what they say rather than where they say it, because what they say about others and how they say it, says much more about them, even if the say it anonymously. Those who will “make it” as paralegals are those paralegals who are professional. Persons who cannot not be civil when making a point are simply not professional. Those who hide behind the veil provided by internet discussions are even less so.

Professionalism is not just a way of behaving on the job. It is an attitude – a state of being. It requires the ability to work with others civilly. It requires the ability to listen to and communicate with others in a way that ones message gets through to them. It requires the ability to state your point clearly, concisely and rationally. It requires personal integrity even when there is no chance of “getting caught.” It often requires the ability to conduct self-examination and introspection. Those persons who cannot control what they say on discussion forums, need the latter in order to achieve the rest and become professionals.

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.

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.