Like other professionals, lawyers have enthusiastically embraced marketing via social media. After all, the Internet provides an inexpensive -- often free -- forum for people to publicize themselves and their businesses. Advertisements, endorsements and recommendations for lawyers can be found on various social media websites. The "like" or "endorsement" feature on such sites, however, raises ethics questions for lawyers.
The American Bar Association Model Rules of Professional Conduct contain specific restrictions on lawyer advertising and solicitation of clients. Model Rules, Rule 7.1 provides that lawyers should not make any false or misleading communication about their services. Rule 7.2 prohibits reciprocal or quid pro quo endorsements. Rule 7.3 prohibits lawyers from soliciting clients in person, by telephone (cold calling), or through "real-time electronic contact."
Much discussion arises over whether lawyer marketing via social media risks violating the Model Rules. At least one state bar group -- Florida -- offers guidelines on how ethics rules apply to social media websites. The line between a lawyer's implicit marketing and normal social conduct, however, might be difficult to draw.
An endorsement from someone familiar with a lawyer's skill and experience might present little problem. But what if the endorsement comes from someone who does not know the lawyer at all? Social media sites might suggest skills or expertise for endorsement based on the user's profile. An endorsement often involves only a single mouse click. Some sites, moreover, might send emails suggesting that users should consider endorsing their contacts, whether closely related or not. The "like" or "endorse" feature thus might add little information value to users, perhaps risking misperception by the public.
At least one ethics opinion notes that lawyers cannot list themselves as specialists in a particular area, unless a lawyer has been certified as such a specialist.
Given these limitations, should lawyers avoid social media endorsements altogether? Perhaps the most appropriate thing to do at this point is either to disable the endorsement feature (if that can be done) or disclaim any implication of special skills or abilities based on such endorsements.