Social Media vs. Client Confidentiality

Michael Downey’s article in the most recent issue of the ABA Law Practice Management’s Law Practice magazine raises an issue concerning the effects of social media on client confidentiality:

[T]he constant push for lawyers to post Internet content—blogging, tweeting and the like—substantially increases the risks to client information.

A great illustration of a lawyer generating Internet content to attract clients is Hunter v. Virginia State Bar, No. 121472 (Va. Feb. 28, 2013). In Hunter, a lawyer blogged about criminal cases he handled for clients without the clients’ permission.

A hearing panel found this unethical, but the Virginia Supreme Court reversed, concluding that a lawyer could report on publicly disclosed information at a client’s criminal proceeding without client consent. “To the extent [this] information is aired in a public forum,” the Hunter court explained, “privacy considerations must yield to First Amendment protections.”

Sign of the future? Hunter’s holding may be rejected as unpersuasive by other courts. Yet Hunter serves as a powerful reminder that lawyers and law firms may be inclined to promote their firms by revealing client confidences.

No doubt, social media create new ways in which lawyers can commit ethics violations, and new opportunities for them to do so. However, these pressures are not qualitatively different from those of years past. Unethical lawyers could always breach client confidences in articles, speeches, or even informal marketing pitches. Ethical lawyers didn’t then and won’t now.

Awareness of any intensified risks is great, and I commend Mr. Downey, but let’s be careful to avoid letting welcome conscience-raising descend into what Kevin O’Keefe has correctly described as “lawyers scaring lawyers from using social media.”

Lawyerist: Computer Monitor Setup for Lawyers

The Lawyerist has a good look at the ins and outs of computer displays in The Best Computer Monitor Setup for Lawyers. The idea of using multiple monitors to improve productivity is not news, but this article takes it to another level. Ideas particularly worthy of note:

  1. Pixel size (as opposed to screen resolution) makes a giant difference in screen legibility. The smaller the pixels (i.e., the more that can be jammed into a square inch), the better. The author contents that at very small pixel sizes, it’s as easy to ready material on a computer monitor as in a well-printed book.
  2.  A good really large monitor (27 inches may be better than two 22 inch screens. One good 27 inch monitor is more expensive than two smaller ones, but it may be worth it.

Five Keys to Protecting Your Online Accounts

Dennis Kennedy highlights a blog post by Chris Hoffman entitled “How Attackers Actually ‘Hack Accounts’ Online and How to Protect Yourself.” Hoffman explains five key vulnerabilities and how to avoid them:

  1. Reusing Passwords, Especially Leaked Ones.
  2. Keyloggers.
  3. Social Engineering.
  4. Answering Security Questions.
  5. Email Account and Password Resets.

Lots of good advice here, with the tip on security questions particularly welcome. More on this later.

 

Lawyers and “Ghost Blogging”

Jim Calloway, Kevin O’Keefe and Sharon Nelson share opinions on the ethics of lawyer blogs using material not written by the lawyer, also known as “ghost blogging” a Digital Edge Podcast entitled Lawyers Swarm to Ghost Blogging, But is it Ethical? Digital Edge Podcast.

I don’t have a giant problem with law firms using marketing materials written by others. Vendors have been providing such materials for decades. To the degree a lawyer is presenting the blog as representing his unique insights, ghost blogging might be problematic in some situations.

Rethinking Need for Lawyer Encryption

Episode 104 of the  Kennedy-Mighell Report deals with a timely topic: “In Light of NSA Surveillance, Should Lawyers Encrypt?” Dennis Kennedy notes:

Lawyers have struggled with the notion of encryption over the years for historical and practical reasons. We discuss a range of encryption questions and issues, both practical and theoretical. It’s difficult not to feel that lawyers have dropped the ball on encryption and given away an opportunity to be thought leaders on the topic. What do you think about that? We also offer some predictions for the future and I found myself being more optimistic about lawyers’ use of encryption than I had expected to be when we started the podcast.

Apps for Law Firm Marketing?

Ellen Freedman, author of PA Law Practice Management, is bullish on the idea of law firms developing custom apps for marketing. Others, like Kevin O’Keefe and Erik Mazzone, so much. Still others, like Dennis Kennedy, are in between.

It’ll be interesting to see how this all sorts out. My take?

We’ll see some white elephants in the beginning, like the first few law firm websites, a history chronicled in Law Law Law on the Internet, by Rick Klau and Erik Heels.

Law firms will probably be able to get a little traction from apps that make it easier for existing clients to interact with the law firm, possibly providing instructional items like many provide on their websites.

If law firms are able to break the code and come up with ways to provide real value to customers and potential customers, we will probably see very successful law firm apps.

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