Revised March 2014
- Other Considerations
- Intellectual Property Notice
- The Law Firm Social Media Policy Template
At Jaffe PR, we have made our best effort to outline a comprehensive set of online policies and procedures for law firms and lawyers striving to use social media effectively and responsibly. This is our seventh update to our law firm social media policy since its original release in late 2008, and we will continue to revise it as new information becomes available. Please feel free to use and change this template as you wish, and to pass it along to others who may find it useful.
We strongly suggest that you give consideration to your law firm’s standards and culture in customizing these Social Media Policies and Procedures to include your law firm’s principles on confidentiality, public reputation management, and marketing and communications. Keep in mind that the presence of a policy is not the same as enforcement, and we strongly suggest you develop procedures to ensure adherence to your firm’s policy.
- Learn state ethics rules: Certain states are more stringent with their ethics rules than others and consider social media posts to be subject to the same guidelines as advertising. At this time, the American Bar Association has not published guidelines on social media use, so, for now, it is important to follow the state bar rules in which your firm operates.
- Educate: Whether administrative staff or senior partners, all members of the firm should undergo a series of social media trainings that deliver a comprehensive review of your law firm’s social media policy and a discussion about how one’s digital footprint can affect the firm’s reputation.
- Monitor: In today’s online environment, knowing when your firm and attorneys garner social media mentions is crucial. By monitoring social networks, you can respond timely and appropriately to discussions involving your firm.
- Respond strategically: A lapse of online etiquette by a partner or staff member can easily happen. Having a strategy to mitigate the damage an errant post renders makes good PR sense. A law firm crisis communication plan should include a social media section with a strategy for overcoming such transgressions.
- Enforce consequences: A social media policy without any teeth is an inadequate policy. Firms must determine how to handle violations, including the severity of the punishment. Explain the potential consequences in the social media policy and deliver frequent reminders so enforcement is expected and understood by all.
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[FIRM NAME] Social Media Policy and Procedures
Today, social media encompasses a broad sweep of online activities, all of which contribute to your law firm’s digital footprint. These social networks include not only the blogs you write and those on which you comment, but also social platforms such as Facebook and Google+; visual sharing sites like Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr and YouTube; professional networks such as LinkedIn and Legal OnRamp; the live micro-blogging tool, Twitter; and social bookmarking sites such as JD Supra, Reddit, StumbleUpon, Delicious and Newsvine. Every day, it seems, new online tools, platforms and advances introduce fresh opportunities to build your virtual footprint.
As a firm, we believe that social media can drive business and support our professional development efforts — and recent research agrees: Experian finds that 27 percent of time spent online is on social networking. A 2013 HubSpot marketing survey revealed that social media produces almost double the marketing leads of trade shows, telemarketing, direct mail or PPCs. Combined with that, social media leads have a 13 percent higher lead-conversion rate.
We are aware that social media will not be used exclusively for business; keeping that in mind, we herein attempt to provide reasonable guidelines for online behavior for members of our firm who participate online on behalf of our firm. As new tools on the Web are introduced and new challenges emerge for all of us, this document will, of necessity, evolve.
Here are [FIRM NAME]’s social media policies and procedures.
Social Media Policies and Procedures:
YOUR IDENTITY ONLINE
- You are responsible for what you post. You are personally responsible for any of your online activity conducted with a firm email address or that can be traced back to the firm’s domain or which uses firm assets. The [FIRM DOMAIN].com address attached to your name implies that you are acting on the firm’s behalf. When using a firm email address or firm assets to engage in any social media or professional social networking activity (for example, LinkedIn and Legal OnRamp), all actions are public, and attorneys and staff will be held fully responsible for any and all said activities.
- Outside the workplace, your rights to privacy and free speech protect online activity conducted on your personal social networks with your personal email address. However, what you publish on such personal online sites should never be attributed to the firm and should not appear to be endorsed by or originated from the firm. If you choose to list your work affiliation on a social network, then you should regard all communication on that network as you would in a professional network. Online lives are ultimately linked whether or not you choose to mention the firm in your personal online networking activities.
- Be transparent. When participating in any online community, disclose your identity and affiliation with the firm, your clients, and your professional or personal interests. When posting a comment to a blog, always use your name. Never create an alias, and never be anonymous.
- Follow the rules in the [FIRM NAME]’s [EMPLOYEE STAFF MANUAL]. These rules also apply to employee behavior within social networks and other public online spaces.
- Follow the terms and conditions of use that have been established by each venue used for your social networking activities.
- Obey the law. Do not post any information or conduct any online activities that might violate applicable local, state, or federal laws or regulations, or any ethical guidelines for our profession.
- Never be false or misleading in your online credentials. Attorneys and other professional staff members must maintain complete accuracy in all of their online biographies (bios) and ensure there is no embellishment. For example, for a lawyer’s bio to state “Harvard-trained” after the attorney attends a weekend CLE course at Harvard is inaccurate and noncompliant with the rules.
- Use the words “expert” or “specialized” sparingly and only when such claims can be substantiated and are approved for usage by the appropriate state bar association.
CREATING AND MANAGING CONTENT
- Be direct, informative and brief. Follow your state bar’s ethics rules regarding social networking.
- Social media posts can be subject to advertising rules. Posts deemed to be advertisements require additional disclosures, such as the typicality of results.
- Never use a firm client’s name in a social media post unless you have written permission to do so.
- Credit appropriately. Identify all copyrighted or borrowed material with citations and links. When publishing any material online that includes another’s direct or paraphrased quotes, thoughts, ideas, photos or videos, always give credit to the original material or author, where applicable.
- Fact-check your posts. Always evaluate your contribution’s accuracy and truthfulness. Before posting any online material, ensure that the material is accurate, truthful and without factual error.
- Spell- and grammar-check everything. Content never disappears entirely once it has been posted.
- Correct errors promptly. If you find that your blog entry or social post contains an error or mistake, correct it. Since transparency is key, admit your mistake, apologize if necessary, correct it and move on.
- Blogs are part of social media. While a blog itself is not subject to the limitations on commercial speech, the content of a blog can be. The content must be informative only, and nothing in the content should propose a commercial transaction or be for the purpose of directly gaining a commercial transaction. The threshold question to ask is, “Does the content articulate commercial speech in any way?” If so, it is likely that it will be subject to state rules.
- When posting to a blog or social media site, refrain from writing about controversial or potentially inflammatory subjects, including politics, sex, religion or any other non-business-related subjects. Keep the tone of your comments respectful and informative, never condescending or berating. Use sentence-case format, not capital letters. Stick to this maxim whenever you are contributing to any blogs or social and professional networks.
- Avoid personal attacks, online fights and hostile communications. If a blogger or any other online influencer posts a statement with which you disagree, voice your opinion, but do not escalate the conversation to a heated argument. Write reasonably, factually and with good humor. Understand and credit the other person’s point of view and avoid any communications that could result in personal, professional or credibility attacks.
- Never disclose proprietary or confidential information about our firm or our clients in your posts or responses/comments.
- If in doubt, don’t!
CONFIDENTIALITY AND PRIVACY
- Do not disclose confidential information. Honor the terms of your contracts with the firm and contracts we have with any client. Do not disclose or use confidential or proprietary information of the firm or any client in any form of online media. Sharing this type of information, even unintentionally, can result in legal action against you, the firm or the client.
- Avoid forums where there is little control over what you know to be confidential information. For example, in the world of social networking, there is often a breach of confidentiality when someone emails an attorney or posts a comment congratulating him or her on representation of a specific client or on a specific case.
- Respect the privacy of your partners and associates, as well as the opinions of others. Before sharing a comment, post, picture or video about a client or other attorney through any type of social media, obtaining the client’s or attorney’s consent is not only a courtesy, it also is a requirement.
POTENTIAL CONFLICTS AND RED FLAGS
Get prior approval for a post when:
- Responding to a negative post. If a blogger or any other online participant posts an inaccurate, accusatory or negative comment about the firm or any firm clients, do not engage in the conversation without prior approval of [CONTACT NAME].
- Posting recommendations for colleagues. Recommending colleagues is a tool of professional social networking sites. The recommendations and comments you post about other current and former firm attorneys can have consequences, even if you are making the recommendations personally and not on behalf of the firm. Therefore, we ask that you clear all potential recommendations and comments with [CONTACT NAME] for anyone who is or was ever associated with the firm. (NOTE TO FIRM: You could give a time limit, such as “anyone associated with the firm in the past # years.”)
- Responding directly to a journalist. If you are contacted directly by a journalist regarding issues of concern to the firm, clear the query with [CONTACT NAME] before responding.
Other potential red flag situations:
- Check your state’s particular prohibitions or limitations on testimonials before posting them online.
- Use a disclaimer if you communicate electronically about fees, awards, recent cases or case outcomes. (NOTE TO FIRM: You may want to require prior approval for this.) Be aware that attorney-client relationships might be created online, sometimes inadvertently. Use of a firm-approved disclaimer might be appropriate. (NOTE TO FIRM: Some firms are incorporating such disclaimers into pop-up boxes that prevent an individual from emailing an attorney unless he or she accepts the terms of a disclaimer.)
BUILDING YOUR VIRTUAL FOOTPRINT AND YOUR NETWORK
- Build a reputation of trust among your clients, media and the public. When you are reaching out to journalists, bloggers, clients or colleagues through social media, take every opportunity to build a reputation of trust and establish yourself as a credible and transparent legal professional.
- Don’t use your own personal online relationships or the firm’s network to influence polls or rankings.
- When using social networks with your firm email and professional identification, do not “friend” or “connect” with anyone whom you either do not actually know or with whom you have not previously corresponded.