Social media can be a great marketing tool. But it can also be a liability when campaigns are offensive, tone-deaf, or fail to meet industry-specific compliance standards.
For example, when Carrie Fisher died, people thought Cinnabon was capitalizing on her death by Tweeting that she had “the best buns in the galaxy,” replacing her signature “Star Wars” hairstyle for their cinnamon buns. In another faux pas, Pepsi ran ads showing a voodoo doll of soccer player Cristiano Ronaldo in a number of painful poses. Shortly after, his devoted fanbase forcefully came after them.
These brands upset their followers, received tons of backlash, and had to issue apologies. But those are large corporations with high public profiles — does it really matter if your law firm makes similar social media marketing mistakes?
Why Law Firms Must Be Vigilant on Social Media
Law firms can damage their reputations and land in hot water with their state bar associations if they fail to use social media correctly. To avoid losing clients and violating state board rules, avoid making these common law firm social media marketing mistakes.
Mistake #1: Violating Client Confidentiality
In 2014, an Indiana lawyer was charged with a felony after writing an expletive-filled post to his client’s ex-husband on Facebook. The attorney faced jail time and a fine of up to $10,000, not to mention embarrassing media headlines and a tarnished reputation.
Any public discussion (online or otherwise) of a case without client permission violates client confidentiality. Engaging in this type of behavior can cost you clients, garner you bad press, and harm your standing in the legal community.
In 2018, the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility developed and distributed confidentiality obligations for lawyers in regard to blogging and public commentary. Among other guidelines, it states that:
A lawyer must maintain the confidentiality of information relating to the representation of a client, unless that client has given informed consent to the disclosure, the disclosure is impliedly authorized to carry out the representation or the disclosure is permitted by Rule 1.6(b).
Rule 1.6(b) “permits lawyers to reveal information relating to the representation of a client to the extent the lawyer reasonably believes necessary to secure legal advice about the lawyer’s compliance with these Rules.”
While these stipulations are not binding (lawyers must follow their state bar rules, but the ABA is a voluntary organization), many successful lawyers turn to the ABA for thought leadership and guidance. Therefore, following that organization’s advice is one way to maintain professional standing in the legal community.
Mistake #2: Posting About Current Cases
Posting about current cases is often perceived as an ethics violation. Recently, a Kentucky judge received a reprimand for talking about a pending murder case on her Facebook page. Discussing cases you’re handling online is a poor practice, even on your personal social media profiles. Posting about a current case could even be used against you in court.
Mistake #3: Running Contests for Reviews or Likes
In 2019, the North Carolina State Bar ruled that law firms cannot operate contests based on likes and reviews, because they are offering a form of compensation for an endorsement. The ruling stated, “Generally, lawyers may not give anything of value to a person for recommending the lawyer's services.”
In addition, your clients would need to reveal themselves to participate, which would violate their confidentiality.
Mistake #4: Commenting on Current Events
Posting personal beliefs online is bad form for any professional, but it’s an especially bad look for attorneys, who are supposed to maintain a sense of decorum and fairness. Lawyers who fall into this trap run the risk of alienating clients, whether past, current, or future.
Let’s say you post an opinion about a political situation on Twitter, and a potential client disagrees. The potential client now may decide not to hire you because they want to work with someone who has similar beliefs, they found your post to be too aggressive, or they find it unprofessional to voice your personal opinion online. Even if the content is on your personal page, avoid discussing or commenting on any current events or controversial news topics that could reveal your bias or alienate your clients.
How to Avoid Future Social Media Issues
The key to avoiding future social media issues is to create a sensible social media policy at your law firm. More than half of all businesses have a social media policy in place, so if you don’t have one already, now is the time.
Include guidelines for:
- What you can and cannot post
- Where you can post
- Who you can tag in posts
- Which hashtags you can post
- Whether you can post about work on your personal page
Designate one employee (or enlist the help of an experienced, reputable, and results-driven marketing firm) to manage your law firm’s social media marketing efforts. Assigning the responsibility to a specific person allows you to control the messaging and the messenger. If something goes wrong, you’ll know who needs to own up. As a bonus, having a point person for social media should also ensure brand consistency and a coherent series of posts, hashtags, and engagement.
Additionally, all employees should sign a social media policy upon being hired. This policy should lay out specific guidelines as well as consequences for employees who violate the rules.
Social media is always evolving, so you will need to update and revise your policy periodically. As long as you maintain an open dialogue with your employees and explain why certain items are in your policy, you should avoid mistakes and get everyone on your firm working towards a common goal in terms of social media success.
Contact LaFleur for Help With Your Law Firm Social Media Marketing
If your law firm is struggling to develop and execute sound, successful, and bar-compliant social media marketing strategies, our team of social media experts can help.
Browning, J. (2014, August 4). Facing up to Facebook: Ethical issues with lawyers’ use of social media. Bloomberg Law. Retrieved from https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/professional_responsibility/aba_formal_opinion_480.pdf
Formal opinion 480: Confidentiality obligations for lawyer blogging and other public commentary. (2018, March 6). American Bar Association. Retrieved from https://news.bloomberglaw.com/us-law-week/facing-up-to-facebookethical-issues-with-lawyers-use-of-social-media
McCoy, V. (2020, February 28). Common mistakes law firms make on social media. Good2BSocial. Retrieved from https://good2bsocial.com/law-firm-social-media-mistakes/
Neil, M. (2014, May 23). Lawyer charged with felony intimidation over Facebook message to client’s ex-husband. ABA Journal. Retrieved from https://www.abajournal.com/news/article/divorce_lawyer_charged_with_intimidation_over_facebook_message_to_clients
Social media use during work hours by employees [infographic]. (2018, September 7). Digital Information World. Retrieved from https://www.digitalinformationworld.com/2018/09/problems-social-media-workplace.html
The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.