If your client posts a favorable review or comment about you on a social media platform that you control, must you take it down if it does not comply with the Louisiana Rules of Professional Conduct? A recent Pennsylvania Bar Association formal opinion addressed this and other issues facing lawyers using social media. See Pa. Formal Op. 2014-300 (2014).
Although social media sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter are exempt from the filing and review process applicable to most Louisiana advertisements, see Rule 7.8(g), a lawyer’s postings still must comply with the Louisiana Rules of Professional Conduct. Among others, advertising regulations in Rules 7.2, 7.6(b), and 7.9 are fully applicable. As a result, a lawyer’s social media site must include certain required information such as the name of at least one responsible lawyer; the location of all jurisdictions in which the lawyer is licensed to practice; the location of the lawyer’s office; and any intent to refer client matters out to another law firm. See Rules 7.2, 7.6 and 7.9(c). Moreover, a lawyer’s site cannot include any “false” or “misleading” information, see Rule 7.2(c)(1)(C), cannot compare the lawyer’s services with other lawyers’ services (unless the comparison can be factually substantiated), see Rule 7.2(c)(1)(G); cannot promise results, and cannot include undisclosed paid endorsements, see Rule 7.2(c)(1). Furthermore, the Rules prohibit a lawyer from using the words “specialize,” “specialist,” “certified,” or “expert.” See Rule 7.2(c)(5).
But what if the you don’t post the questionable information, but someone else does? Many social and professional networking sites allow the general public to review, rate or otherwise comment on a lawyer’s abilities. For example, LinkedIn allows other members to “endorse” a lawyer for having certain skills. Avvo allows the public to rate a lawyer on a scale of 1-5 for “experience,” “industry recognition,” and “professional conduct.” A lawyer must make reasonable efforts to assure that any such posts by others comply with the Louisiana Rules of Professional Conduct. According to the Pennsylvania Bar Association:
Although an attorney is not responsible for the content that other persons, who are not agents of the attorney, post on the attorney’s social networking websites, an attorney (1) should monitor his or her social networking websites, (2) has a duty to verify the accuracy of any information posted, and (3) has a duty to remove or correct any inaccurate endorsements. . . . This obligation exists regardless of whether the information was posted by the attorney, by a client, or by a third party. In addition, an attorney may be obligated to remove endorsements or other postings posted on sites that the attorney controls that refer to skills or expertise that the attorney does not possess.
The North Carolina State Bar Association has made similar recommendations. See N.C. Formal Op. 2012-08 (Oct. 26, 2102).
Louisiana lawyers with professional social media sites should heed this advice. Even though your client may think you’re “the best,” it’s a comparison that cannot be factually substantiated. As a result, it likely violates the rules. Although you may like it and your Facebook friends may “Like” it even more, ODC may not. Take it down.