New Ethics Opinion Addresses LinkedIn “Endorsements”

A new advisory opinion from New York addresses “[t]he ethical implications of attorney profiles on LinkedIn.” See N.Y. County Lawyers Association Professional Ethics Committee, Formal Op. 748 (Mar. 10, 2015). LinkedIn allows users to display “Skills & Endorsements” that have been noted by other LinkedIn subscribers.  While such endorsements seem innocuous enough, the New York opinion considers potential disciplinary issues that a lawyer should consider before accepting and displaying them on a profile page. These two problems include: (1) avoiding false and misleading statements about “skills”; and, (2) avoiding improper claims of expertise or specialization.

First, displaying an endorsement in a field in which the lawyer has no real “expertise” would be “false” or “misleading.” The New York opinion illustrates the problem as follows:

For example, if a distant acquaintance endorses a matrimonial lawyer for international transactional law, and the attorney has no actual experience in that area, the attorney should remove the endorsement from his or her profile within a reasonable period of time, once the attorney becomes aware of the inaccurate posting. If a colleague or former client, however, endorses that attorney for matrimonial law, a field in which the attorney has actual experience, the endorsement would not be considered misleading.

Louisiana Rule 7.2(c)(1)(B) likewise prohibits a lawyer from making a “false, misleading or deceptive” communication. Therefore, a Louisiana lawyer should screen LinkedIn endorsements to assure that none are false or misleading.

LinkedIn Skills and EndorsementsSecond, displaying endorsements may be misinterpreted as an inappropriate claim of “specialist” or “expert” status. Louisiana Rule 7.2(c)(5) provides that: “a lawyer shall not state or imply that the lawyer is ‘certified,’ ‘board certified,’ an ‘expert’ or a ‘specialist'” unless the lawyer is officially certified. The clear purpose of this rule is to prohibit false claims of official certification by the Louisiana Board of Legal Specialization. Despite this underlying purpose, the Louisiana Office of Disciplinary Counsel has pursued Louisiana lawyers who have harmlessly used such words on their websites. See, e.g., In re Loughlin, 148 So. 2d 176 (La. 2014). Most lawyers who display an endorsement that they have “expertise” in certain practice area don’t intend to suggest that the Louisiana Board of Legal Specialization, or any other organization, has formally certified them as an “specialist” or “expert” in a field of practice. The New York opinion (quite reasonably) agrees:

Categorizing one’s practice areas or experience under a heading such as “Skills” or “Experience” therefore, does not run afoul of [the New York Rules of Professional Conduct] provided that the word “specialist” is not used or endorsed by the attorney, directly or indirectly.

To avoid any potential problems, however, a Louisiana lawyer should simply hide the “Skills & Endorsements” section from the lawyer’s LinkedIn profile page. That’s what I’ve done. To do so, just go to your “Profile” page, click “Edit,” find the “Skills and Endorsements Settings,” and check the “No” radio button next to “I want to be endorsed.”

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