Monthly Archives: June 2011

To Friend … Or Not to Friend?

Like Romeo, many attorneys are in an ethical quandary when it comes to the discovery of information on social media sites. Increasingly more attorneys are turning to the Internet to dig up the dirt on potential witnesses, adverse litigants, expert witnesses, and other attorneys.[1] But this can get you in trouble depending upon the stage of the litigation or criminal proceedings.

The San Diego Bar Association has recently provided some guidance by releasing SDCBA Legal Ethics Opinion 2011-2. Daniel Eaton who authored the Ethics Opinion said it’s the first to confront ex parte communication through social media.[2]

In the opinion an attorney ‘friends’ two high ranking employees who work at the same company as his client – the plaintiff in the litigation. The attorney knows that the company is represented by counsel and “intends to use any relevant information he obtains from these social media sites to advance the interests of Client in the litigation.” Is there anything wrong with that?

Like many legal answers, the phrase “it depends” comes to mind rather quickly. That’s because the law surrounding the discovery of information from social networking sites is extremely unsettled. While some judges allow discovery of the information, others do not. And here, the issue is not the admissibility of evidence – but how the information was obtained. The attorney seeks to friend two high-ranking employees at the company knowing that the company is represented by counsel. Is this unethical conduct?

The Ethics Opinion concluded by stating that this is unethical conduct. The Opinion states that this is deceptive conduct and that ex parte communication to a represented party intended to elicit information about the subject matter of the representation is impermissible.

It is the opinion of at least one Bar Association that ethical rules bar an attorney from making an ex parte friend request of a represented party. And while Ethics Opinion are not law, they are given great deference by courts.

[1] See Digital Sequestration?

[2] Ethics Opinion Tackles ‘Friend’ Requests

LawPivot: Legal Knowledge as a Service

The new legal website LawPivot is a very interesting new model – knowledge as a service. And its backed by $1 million in funding from Google Ventures and other angel investors.[1] TechCrunch calls it ‘A Quora for legal advice.’

The site allows business to receive crowdsourced and confidential legal answers from a pool of relevant lawyers. The website serves as an excellent resource for start-up and smaller companies that don’t have the budget for an in-house lawyer. And while the attorneys receive no compensation for answering questions, the website can be a great source of business for attorneys.

“LawPivot opened the doors to completely new avenues to connect to a pool of high quality companies. The website is intuitive and easy to use, and gives users an incredible advantage in the marketplace. Use LawPivot or be left behind.”[2]

LawPivot essentially functions like Quora, another website that utilizes crowdsourcing to answer questions. Businesses submit their questions and the LawPivot search engine sends the question to the lawyers that are most qualified to answer the query. The best part is that businesses receive answers from a number of different attorneys.

Since the website is backed by Google, it has received quite a bit of press and has been written about by TechCrunch, Wired, The ABA Journal, Mashable and Fortune to name a few. It seems like a great way for smaller businesses and startups to reduce overhead by saving on legal fees. And for attorneys it could possibly offer a pipeline of promising young businesses … and work. The website is currently free, but has stated that eventually it will charge companies and lawyers for certain services.

Here are some more resources:

Google Ventures Leads $600K Investment In LawPivot, A Quora For Startup Legal Advice

LawPivot Expands Reach to Spread Knowledge as a Service

LawPivot Takes Its Q&A Legal Advice Site Nationwide

How LawPivot Aims to Help Lawyers Build Up Their Business

How LawPivot Could Disrupt the Legal Field

[1] LawPivot Expands Q&A Site For Startup Legal Advice Nationwide

[2] Yusuf Safdari, Of Counsel, Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman

Social Media at a Crossroads?

What more can be written about Weinergate?

I wonder if this whole thing would have died down a lot sooner if the person in question wasn’t named Weiner? It’s just too easy when a guy named Wiener sends pictures of his junk on Twitter.

However, there are a few lessons to be learned from this scandal.[1] Namely, there are risks involved with social media – for companies, law firms, and lawyers. All too often I have seen a number of social media ‘gurus’ and marketers selling social media to lawyers and law firms with the fervor of a snake oil salesman.[2] However, look no further than Representative Anthony Weiner how damaging social media can be to your career.[3] There are still ethics and ethics rules that attorneys must consider in cyberspace.

Social media is at a crossroads right now in the legal community. Many attorneys and firms have yet to catch on yet. Some have even begun to advocate quitting Twitter altogether because it has no real value.[4]

However, I think that social media can be a valuable tool for any professional if used properly. Social Media can be a great tool for connecting with colleagues, clients, and other experts in your field. I personally use Twitter to listen to what others have to say and to see what others find interesting and valuable.

Again, I don’t think that Twitter and Facebook are going to have the clients beating down your door. But they do have value – even if it can’t all be measured by ROI. I will be attending my first tweetup this Wednesday which is being sponsored by the San Diego Law Library. There are people I would never have met if I didn’t use social media.

And maybe that’s the most valuable lesson of all. There’s still no substitute for a handshake and a face-to-face conversation with a person … but sometimes that’s not possible without social media.

What do you think?  Do the benefits of social media outweigh the risks?

Here are some more resources:

What Lawyers Can Learn From Large Firms About Using Social Media

Social & Mobile Media: Discovery Practices & Considerations

Social Media Crisis Management, Weinergate, Politics, Football, and the Law

Ethics of Social Media for Lawyers

Why I’m quitting Twitter (and you should too)

Inside Straight: Empirical Proof That Twitter Doesn’t Work!

Should You Quit Twitter?

[1] Mainly, make sure to direct message those lewd pictures of yourself –  don’t send them out to your entire Twitter feed as Representative Wiener did. First, social media is not all fun and games. One small tweet can ruin professional careers and the hard-earned reputations of law firms. Second, there can be serious risks involved with social media. Third, don’t be a dumbass when using social media.

[2] There are a number of these individuals that lurk on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media outlets. I see posts all the time like this ‘How can you grow your business with social media? …. You can view your FREE ebook on how to “Pump UP Your Profits with Social Marketing.’

[3] IN January an Akin Gump Chair criticized the delivery of an Native American prayer at a memorial for Tucson, Ariz., shooting victims on the Power Line blog. The firm did quite a bit of business with some local tribes – who didn’t take kindly to his scathing criticism of the Native American prayer. Akin Gump Chair Hits Partner’s Personal Blog Post on ‘Ugly’ Indian Prayer

[4] See Why I’m quitting Twitter (and you should too) by Tracy Coenen.

[5] Recorded June 8, 2011 at Luce Forward in San Diego, California. “Social media, an easily accessible, low-cost marketing vehicle for lawyers to market their practices, can be overwhelming. Learn how to put together a social media strategy to reach the right audience with the right message. Join the San Diego Law Library and learn from large law firm marketing experts about best practices, as well as traps to avoid.”

What … Quitting Twitter?

It seems like Twitter is something that hasn’t even really taken off yet in the legal profession, but quitting Twitter is exactly what Tracy Coenen of the Fraud Files blog is doing. And she wants you and other professional to quit too.

Before you think that her blog post is purely sensationalism – Why I’m quitting Twitter (and you should too) – she does raise some great points that I have heard echoed from other attorneys.[1] Namely, that Twitter has just turned into another broadcast medium with no real interaction between users – everyone is talking and no one is listening. She states that the main reason that she is quitting Twitter is because tweeting has sent almost no additional traffic to her website and that there are simply not enough results to make Twitter worthwhile.

I originally came across her blog on the LinkedIn Legal Blogging group. She posted her discussion less than two weeks ago and she already has over 70 comments – making it one of the most discussed topics that I have seen in the LinkedIn Groups. Basically, the comments fall into two different groups. One group – the ROI crowd – says that you can’t measure the value of Twitter so go ahead and quit. The second group of people feel that Twitter is still really in its infancy and quitting now would be extremely premature.

Personally, I am not sure how you measure the exact ROI on Twitter – and I’m not sure anyone else is either. I do, however, feel that Facebook is a much better medium for communicating with people. Here is my comment to the post:

… Twitter is a ‘very small echo chamber.’ It now seems to operate as any another broadcast medium, instead of being a truly social channel like Facebook. However, keep in mind that Twitter will help for S.E.O. purposes and increases your organic page rank from Google. Thus, you may not be found on Google as much without utilizing Twitter.

Also, I utilize Twitter as a listening tool more than anything. I always check to see what links were viewed the most and retweeted, and the content that other people are sharing. This way I know what people enjoy reading about and I know that these would make good topics for our blog.

I’m not advocating that Twitter a some magic pill, and I don’t think that you will have clients flocking into your office due to your tweeting … but I don’t think that just because you cannot directly measure your ROI you should abandon it. I have made some great connections with professionals across the county in the CLE field through Twitter that I would not have met otherwise. This has definite value, but it is definitely hard to quantify.

Here are other insightful comments:

  • If you go into Twitter thinking about ROI, SEO, statistics, etc. you don’t understand Twitter and Social Media at a deep, fundamental level and you’re definitely better off not using the service at all.
  • Many lawyers and other professionals have found Twitter to be a powerful networking tool and one that drives not only great traffic to their blog, but a tool that helps establish a reputation for subject matter expertise and builds relationships that result in business. Are you suggesting that those lawyers quit Twitter?
  • From a pure SEO standpoint, twitter should definitely be used. It is one of the new ranking signals that is used by Google and Bing right now.
  • I like most all of your reasoning and would dump Twitter, except I feel I would be missing the opportunity to monitor whats happening with people worth following.
  • Using Twitter and other tools that my clients are using makes me a better business attorney. I can better fomulate employment policies on social media use, counsel on trademark use/abuse, advise on defamation in comments on web sites, etc.
  • I just started using Twitter as a means to attract new business. However, it does not seem to be working yet Although I consider myself computer savy and already use Facebook and I have mutliple domain names pointing to my lawfirm’s website, I don’t quite have the hang of Twitter.
  • Has our firm ever fielded a call where someone said, “I’m calling you because I follow you on Twitter.” No, not that I know of. With that being said, I have built relationships with people out of thin air on Twitter and then met them in town for lunch. Now, we talk regularly. A relationship is made. Right there is another friend of mine and a friend to the firm. That alone is worth it for me.
  • Twitter is a relationship tool. It is a reputation and credibility development tool. It is an incredible real-time customer service tool. It is the way to be on the front end of breaking news in your industry. It gets you higher search engine rankings.

Do you feel that Twitter is a waste of time for professionals such as attorneys? Does it have value?

[1] Her recent blog post is entitled Why I’m quitting Twitter (and you should too)