NOTE: At Jaffe we have made our best effort (below) to outline a comprehensive set of online policies and procedures. This is our third update to this piece since its original release in late 2008 and we will continue to revise it as new information becomes available.
We strongly suggest that you give consideration to your own standards and culture in customizing these Social Media and Social Networking Policies and Procedures for your firm. As well-known legal blogger Kevin O’Keefe has said, “Apply your existing law firm standards and protocol on confidentiality, PR, marketing, and communication. Who better to know how blogs fit into your culture and the safeguards needed for firm comfort than the firm’s own professionals?”
Furthermore, we must impress upon you the need to be familiar with the ethics rules of the states in which you operate.
Intellectual Property Notice:
The material in content of this material may be protected under various intellectual property laws, including copyright and trademark. Unless otherwise stated, this material is and remains the intellectual property of Jaffe and all rights are reserved. No part of this material may be incorporated, reproduced, republished, distributed, transmitted, displayed, broadcast or otherwise exploited in any manner, except for the internal use and analysis by the requesting firm, without the express prior written permission of Jaffe. Jaffe’s names, logos, related trademarks and other intellectual property are the property of Jaffe and cannot be used without its express prior written permission.
© 2008-2011 Jaffe. All rights reserved.
Firm and practice-specific blogs are powerful business development tools. Applied strategically, blogging and commenting on other blogs is critically important to maximizing a firm’s overall SEO performance – but there are best practices to keep in mind. To help you encourage your attorneys to blog in a way that builds the firm’s brand (and avoids potential problems), we offer the following Blogging Policy template. Feel free to tailor it to meet your firm’s particular needs. And when your firm is ready to take blogging to the next level, or if you need blogging advice or assistance, please contact email@example.com or Jaffe’s content strategist Keith Ecker, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[Firm Name]’s Blogging Policy
At [Firm Name] we believe that blogging can be an important business development tool. It is a powerful social media marketing tool that, when applied strategically, will enhance [Firm Name]’s overall search engine optimization (SEO), driving business to our website and ultimately to our attorneys. As such, we encourage you to blog.
Your blogging efforts may take many forms – you may contribute to a firm-wide blog or one devoted to a practice or industry group; you may write one (or several) of your own blogs (for both professional and personal use); and, you may guest post to other blogs or participate through comments. Keeping this in mind, our purpose here is to provide guidelines for blogging by members of the firm, when doing so on behalf of the firm. If you have any questions about this policy, please contact [Name].
Your Blogging Identity
Review and follow [Firm Name]’s Staff Manual rules. These rules apply to employee behavior within social networking and other public online spaces.
Obey the law. Do not post any information or conduct any online activity that may violate applicable local, state or federal laws or regulations.
Your posts are your responsibility. You are personally responsible for online activity conducted with a firm e-mail address, and/or which can be traced back to a [Firm Name] domain, and/or which uses [Firm Name] assets. The firm URL (i.e., [firmname].com) attached to your name implies that you are acting on the firm’s behalf. Employees will be held fully responsible for any and all firm-associated blogging activities.
Your rights to privacy and free speech protect online activity conducted on personal blogs, with your personal e-mail address, accessed by your personal computer. However, what you publish on such personal blogs should never be attributed to [Firm Name] and must not appear to be either endorsed by, or originating from, the firm. If you choose to list your work affiliation on a personal blog, then you should view all communication on that blog through your employee filter – i.e., as if you were functioning as a representative of the firm.
Transparency is a top priority. When blogging, disclose your identity and affiliation with [Firm Name], as well as your professional and/or personal interest in the topic at hand. If you are recommending a client company, product or service, you must disclose this relationship. When posting on [Firm Name] blogs, always use your name – never create an alias and never be anonymous.
Your online credentials must be credible. Blog bios must be completely accurate and contain no embellishment – there is no gray area for this.
Example: A lawyer attending a weekend CLE course at Harvard may not refer to him/herself as “Harvard trained” – this is inaccurate and noncompliant with the rules. Also, unless you possess a specifically-named, specialized degree, the words “expert” or “specialized” should be avoided as they conflict with many state bar association ethics rules.
Avoid crisis communications. When the topic being discussed may be considered a crisis situation, refer all blogging activity to the firm’s designated person, [Name, PR or Legal Affairs Director]. Understand that even anonymous comments may be traced back to you or [Firm Name]’s IP address. You are not authorized to comment in these situations and doing so opens the firm to liability and may be grounds for dismissal.
Creating and Managing Content
Be direct, informative and brief. Consult and follow the state bar’s ethics rules regarding social networking and other marketing activities. A blog itself is not subject to the limitation on commercial speech, but the content of a blog can be. Content must be informative only, and should neither propose a commercial transaction, nor be used for the purpose of directly gaining a commercial transaction. Ask yourself: Does the content articulate commercial speech in any way? If so, it will likely be subject to state rules.
Never use a firm client’s name in a blog posting, unless you have written permission to do so.
Credit appropriately. 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 using citations and links.
Fact-check and permission-check your posts. Always evaluate your post’s facts, accuracy and truthfulness. Do you have/need permission from your practice group leader, manager or other appropriate supervisor to blog about that competing firm or opposing point of view? If you’re not sure – ask.
Correct errors promptly. If your blog entry contains an error or mistake – admit it, apologize if necessary, correct it, and move on.
Guest Posting and Leaving Comments on other Blogs
The same blogging rules apply. When contributing a guest post to another blog, follow all policies and procedures laid out in [Firm Name]’s blogging, social media, marketing, and staff manuals. Ensure that the blog you are writing for does the same. And always remember that you are a representative of [Firm Name] and anything you write will be construed as being the opinion of the firm.
Use common sense when commenting. Make your comments meaningful, on-point, and respectful. Refrain from posting about controversial or inflammatory subjects, including politics, sex, religion or any other non-business related subjects. 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 by writing 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.
Alert superiors to problematic posts. Report any libelous blog comments or posts about [Firm Name] to your immediate supervisor, practice group leader or manager. They will coordinate with the firm’s PR representatives and legal counsel regarding further action, if any. Never engage the owner of a blog, either publically or privately, regarding potentially libelous comments.
Be responsive. Respond as quickly as possible to all comments on your posts.
Know your responsibilities as a moderator. If you are the moderator, you must regularly review the queue so that comments are posted promptly. As previously stated, report any libelous blog comments about [Firm Name] to your immediate supervisor, practice group leader or manager. Never engage blog commentators directly regarding potentially libelous comments. Unless directed by firm management, do not delete the comments left by readers, even if you disagree with them.
Confidentiality and Privacy
Do not disclose confidential information. Honor the terms of your contract with the firm and the contracts we have with clients. Avoid forums where there is little control over what you know to be confidential information. Do not disclose or use confidential or proprietary information of the firm or of any client in any form of online media. Sharing this type of information, even unintentionally, can result in legal action against you, the firm, and/or the client.
Respect the privacy of firm clients and your fellow attorneys. Before sharing a comment, post, picture or video about a client or another attorney through any type of social media or network, obtain consent. This is not only a courtesy – it is a requirement.
Potential Conflicts and Red Flags
Responding to negative posts. If you spot an inaccurate, accusatory or negative comment about the firm or any firm clients, do not participate in the conversation before obtaining approval. Contact your immediate supervisor, practice group leader or manager for guidance around formulating an appropriate response, and view it as an opportunity to start a discussion.
Using testimonials. Check your state’s particular prohibitions against and/or limitations on testimonials before posting them online. Use a disclaimer (which you must obtain from [Name, Title] in Marketing) if you communicate electronically about fees, awards, recent cases or case outcomes.
Unintentional attorney-client relationships. Be aware that attorney-client relationships may be created online; this often occurs in social media whether you want it to or not. Be sure to install the firm-approved, pop-up disclaimer informing the sender that communicating with you does not create an attorney-client relationship.
(Note to Firm: Some firms are building in pop-up boxes that prevent someone from e-mailing an attorney unless they accept the terms of a disclaimer stating that sending an e-mail does not constitute an attorney-client relationship.)
Blogging best practices protect you as well as the firm. When used appropriately, we are confident that your blogging efforts will enhance our business development opportunities and contribute to the growth and continued success of the firm