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Rules of Conduct for Social Networking

Earlier this week, The Wall Street Journal gave its editorial staffers a set of rules for how to conduct themselves online and, in particular, on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. The news got me to thinking about the kinds of policies law firms should adopt for social networking. The WSJ's new rules include various do's and don'ts, such as:

  • Consult your editor before "connecting" to or "friending" any reporting contacts who may need to be treated as confidential sources. Openly "friending" sources is akin to publicly publishing your Rolodex.
  • Don't disparage the work of colleagues or competitors or aggressively promote your coverage.
  • Don't engage in any impolite dialogue with those who may challenge your work -- no matter how rude or provocative they may seem.
  • Avoid giving highly-tailored, specific advice to any individual on Dow Jones sites. ... Giving generalized advice is the best approach.
  • All postings on Dow Jones sites that may be controversial or that deal with sensitive subjects need to be cleared with your editor before posting.
  • Business and pleasure should not be mixed on services like Twitter. Common sense should prevail, but if you are in doubt about the appropriateness of a Tweet or posting, discuss it with your editor before sending.

With a few word changes -- substitute "managing partner" for "editor," for example -- several of the WSJ's rules could make sense for law firms. Firms would be well advised to encourage lawyers to avoid giving "highly tailored" advice, to clear potentially controversial posts, and to avoid mixing business and pleasure. What else should a law firm social-media policy include?

Doug Cornelius took at stab at framing a law firm social media policy in a post he wrote last November. "Statements in public forums may inadvertently create an attorney-client relationship, and may also violate the rules prohibiting law firm advertising," he correctly noted. He offered a concise set of sensible guidelines that emphasized the importance of maintaining client confidentiality and avoiding the inadvertent creation of an attorney-client relationship, all tempered by the number one rule of online posting: Think first.

Jay M. Jaffe also recently considered the parameters of a law firm social-media policy in an article he wrote for the newsletter Internet Law & Strategy. (Disclosure: I am a former VP of Jaffe's consulting firm, Jaffe Associates.) His advice is that policies should be designed so as to encourage employees to participate in social media. That means keep them simple and follow common sense, he says, by focusing on four points:

  • Don’t post anything that’s confidential.
  • Avoid the appearance of establishing a client-attorney relationship.
  • Don’t get into an argument with anyone.
  • Be polite and avoid sensitive subjects.

Jaffe shares the full version of his firm's social media policy and points to samples of other policies compiled by 1 2 3 Social Media. Has your firm adopted a social media policy? If so, let us hear about it. Feel free to add a comment below describing your policy's key points.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on May 14, 2009 at 02:47 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

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