How New Lawyers Can Stay Professional Online
We’re currently living in the digital age, a corner stone of which is communication through social media. As a new lawyer just starting out, or a law student looking for work experience, networking is key; it lays the ground work to build relationships that will help a career in law flourish. Social media and various other digital platforms are ideal for this, but whilst online platforms are a world of use, they also have the potential to harm your career if utilised carelessly.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) regulates professional standards for solicitors and law firms. If a solicitor is suspected of slanderous, racist or just generally unprofessional remarks online they are reported to the SRA for investigation.
Based on the SRA code of conduct, all solicitors should hold themselves online to the same professional standards online as they do in the office.
Being cavalier with potentially inflammatory statements on social media can cause a lot of problems, especially if you work in the legal sector. As mentioned above, a legal practitioner could find themselves being reported to the SRA and face dismissal or a hefty fine.
One solicitor who was caught making anti-Semitic remarks on Facebook received a £25,000 fine and a twelve months suspension, as well as having to cover £9,500 in costs.
The Law is also stamping down on cyber bullying, with prison sentences now being handed out to individuals using social media platforms to target and abuse people. Making comments online that may not be targeted at anyone could still be found offensive and fall into this category.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is now pursuing a new policy where any online slander which can be categorised as a ‘hate crime’ will be treated as seriously as any offline offending. New lawyers or law students should especially take note of the stamp down on cyber-bullying, as now more than ever people are more likely to be prosecuted for misusing social media to target people.
Privacy of Social Media Accounts
Many people have social media accounts, be it Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. It’s also not uncommon for people to have more than one on each platform, an account for business and one for personal use for example. While people may think these accounts exist in separate worlds, it’s always important to realise that they are both tied to the same person, and that is how it will be seen by clients and the SRA.
For instance, maybe a friend of yours posts a rather amusing anecdote on Facebook which you ‘like’, or you perhaps jokingly agree with in a comment. You’ve known this person for years and understand the context of the joke, but to someone else it could appear vulgar or offensive. To avoid problems like this, it’s important to monitor who can see your personal accounts by adjusting privacy settings.
That being said, we are not at all condoning slanderous or inflammatory remarks being made online, and many platforms will report you for this regardless.
Professional negligence is another thing to watch for when utilising social media, especially for firms. Accidental disclosure of confidential information or inappropriate conduct over social media can lead to catastrophic legal ramifications, not to mention a likely loss in clients and their faith in the firm. One firm posted a boastful tweet regarding a ‘great win’ on a case. The backlash was quite significant and damaging.
How to optimise LinkedIn for Networking
A general rule of thumb for solicitors is to keep Facebook separate for social media networking and utilise either a business twitter account or LinkedIn. LinkedIn is particularly useful as it can be used to reconnect with potential clients met at networking events and identify ways to strike up relevant conversations with them.
If you are a new solicitor it’s also worthwhile knowing that you cannot give legal or financial advice over LinkedIn, as the software does not keep a record. Offering legal advice over social media platforms is not a good idea in general, regardless of the current inability to do so over LinkedIn. Most solicitors prefer to use this platform to direct a potential client to their personal contact details. It is also a great space to connect with colleagues and likeminded individuals to grow your network circle within the legal world.