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.