Menu

Law firm social media – a warning from the regulatory authorities

Law firm social mediaLaw firm social media is coming of age as a major part of the legal marketing mix. However, in recent weeks, the regulators have stepped in with a few stark messages.

The first of these landed from the Solicitors Regulation Authority for England and Wales. On August 24th, the regulator issued both a press release and an official warning notice about the abuse of social media. The message is clear: inappropriate or offensive posts will be treated as misconduct.

You can see the full transcript of the press release here and the warning notice here.

The warning comes following a number of well publicised cases of abuse. The SRA listed these as:

  • Facebook comments made by a solicitor leading to a £25,000 fine from the SDT, after he admitted they were “offensive” and “wholly inappropriate”
  • Late-night Tweets by a solicitor leading to a rebuke because of the offence they caused
  • Three solicitors at a firm fined a total of £14,000 and being liable for more than £7,000 of costs after exchanging offensive emails about a colleague
  • A solicitor fined £15,000 for emailing a client using language the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) said was “despicable”

The Law Society of Scotland also provides clear-cut advice and guidance for solicitors on law firm social media use. You can see their guidance notes here.

The worst kind of bullies?

Many of us have experienced bullying or intimidation at some point in our lives. Or at least, we know someone who has. Playground bullying or bullying at work are both examples – but they are “in your face”; up close and very personal.

Malicious use of social media is quite another thing. Those who indulge in it often believe that they will not be accountable. They do so because the target is virtual and not immediately present. Any retribution or punishment is unlikely. We all know that bullies are cowards. Perhaps this form of activity is extreme cowardice.

Any idea of getting away scot-free is long gone. The online world is far too connected for that.

A thin dividing line?

Law firm social mediaIn the modern age, most of us have access to one social media outlet or another. I recently discovered that there are over 90,000 UK solicitors on Linkedin. With that level of access, there is plenty of scope for ill-thought out or careless comment. We are only human.

The real problem is that we tend to compartmentalise social media use. On the one hand, we regard it as a personal communication portal – nothing to do with work. On the other, it is rapidly becoming a key marketing communications channel for legal practices. The difference between the two might seem obvious. The problem is, there is no difference.

I write blog posts like this one all the time. To maximise their coverage, I publish the posts on Twitter, Linkedin, Facebook and Google+. I try to research what I write about thoroughly and balance both sides of any argument. However, at the end of the day, what I write is my opinion.

My work circle, my company’s clients and my social circle will see that opinion. Once published, it’s out there in the ether.

The dividing line between private and public is not thin. It’s non-existent.

How to stay on the right side of the law.

It simply is not a case of one form of behaviour for law firm social media activity and another for personal activity. The Chief Executive of the SRA emphasises this point succinctly:

“But this is also about communication within an office or to clients. Solicitors cannot justify their conduct by saying that the communication was private, or they did not intend to cause offence, or that recipients were not offended. There is a risk that if you send an email which has the potential to cause offence and that email subsequently comes to light, we might take action.”

Paul Philip, SRA Chief Executive

In a nutshell, the usual laws covering this type of behaviour apply. The SRA also gives clear guidelines on how to keep yourself on the right side of the law. Examples of the type of behaviour they have investigated and referred to the SDT include:

  • Making offensive or pejorative comments about another person’s race, sexual orientation or religion.
  • Referring to women in derogatory terms and making sexually explicit comments.
  • Making comments which harass or victimise the recipient.
  • Using language intended to shock or threaten.
  • Making offensive or abusive comments to another firm about that firm or its client, or to individuals who are unrepresented.

Law firm social media litmus test.

Whether I am blogging or posting to social media either professionally or personally, I apply a litmus test. You may find these key points helpful:

  • If you wouldn’t say it to somebody’s face, don’t write it to them.
  • Get someone who knows the subject to proof read it and moderate it.
  • Get someone else who doesn’t know the subject to proof read it and moderate it.
  • Before pressing the button ask yourself if what you are publishing is likely to cause offence – even inadvertently.
  • If in any doubt, don’t do it.

Don’t forget, it’s not just your personal reputation at stake. Your business reputation is too.

You can find out more about the use of law firm social media by clicking the links below.

Mike O’Donnell, September 2017.

Mike is an experienced marketing professional who has spent much of his career working in and advising the legal profession. For further biographical details click this link.

Marketing for Lawyers #3 to blog or not to blog?

Social Media for small law firms – how to promote yourself successfully

Previous
Next

© LawWare Limited 1995-2017

Archives

Join over 365 law firms across the United Kingdom.

Our clients range from small start-up legal practices to multi-partner, multi-site firms.

As the first commercial user of LawWare back in 1998, we have had no hesitation in remaining with the product through its development. We thoroughly recommend it to any firm looking for a practice management system.

Alastair Hart & Co.
Alastair Hart

The helpdesk is exceptionally good. Whatever the query there is always a human being there to help. No leaving messages or being advised to go to a website. The best computer service for solicitors I have ever used!

South Forrest
Irene Yule

The linking of documents and casefiles saves so much time! I have experience of several accounts packages and I like that LawWare is simple to use and easy to learn. Support is quick and effective and staff are helpful and courteous.

Sprang Terras
Fiona Allison

I have worked with a number of Case Management providers over the years but have not come across anything with the attention to detail and thoroughness of LawWare. My colleagues and I have not been disappointed.

Brymer legal Ltd.
Professor Stewart Brymer

I can’t imagine trying to be a law firm in the 21st Century without 21st Century IT systems. Having a ‘single system’ that underpins all the work, whether we are in the office or out, is an integral part of what we are building.

Sneddon Morrison
Eric Lumsden

The level of support is the main benefit using this system.  The system itself once you have had training is simple and easy to use. We have a great relationship with LawWare and the ongoing support is second to none.      

Linda George Family Law
Sharon Rodger

Significant preparation was required to configure and import the data from our old firm. We had to get all clients onto the new system and then learn how to use it. We just find it very easy to use, much easier than our old system.

Scanlon Ewing
Maureen Ewing

It’s a big help that you can speak to the boss directly. The support team takes a lot of the technological stress away and, as LawWare continues to build relationships and integrations with other suppliers, it makes our life much easier.

Matthew Cohen & Associates Ltd.
Matthew Cohen

Being a busy litigator with a growing firm it is incredibly useful to be able to view my files from any location with some form of internet connection. I am a fan, and want to keep working with LawWare to make a good product great.

Helix Law Limited
Jonathan Waters

The switch to the new LawCloud system, which is still on-going, has gone very well. We found the LawWare team without exception to be very helpful and knowledgeable. All queries are followed up and dealt with promptly.

Cullen Kilshaw
Ross Kilshaw

interested in

Explore LawWare

Connect With Us