For everyone out there wondering when the ABA would have an opinion on social media and social networking the answer appears to be “soon.” The ABA has a really cool commission with a really long name, ABA Commission on Ethics 20/20 Working Group on the Implications of New Technologies who have come out with an Issues Paper Concerning Lawyers’ Use of Internet Based Client Development Tools. I’m not a lawyer, and I don’t even pretend to play one in the office, so I have to turn any legal opinions over to to my friends and colleagues with JDs after their names. I am, however, on the front line when it comes to “hey, can we do that” in my office. I’m also looked to for answers within the legal marketing community. In the coming days and weeks, I will be looking to people like Jayne Navarre, Larry Bodine, Bob Ambrogi, Kevin O’Keefe and Conrad Saam (to name just a few … the list will get longer, I assure you) to help me formulate my personal thoughts and opinions on the subject. My knee jerk reaction is “NO WAY, we already have federal and state regulations that regulate business and professional conduct,” and “Don’t tread on my First Amendment rights.”

States already have laws in place for “truth-in-advertising,” for ALL businesses. In California, businesses are governed under Business and Professions Code at §17200 and §17500. Federally, the Lanham Act (15 U.S.C. 1125), which is generally enforced by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) can, and should, cover law firms.

But, then I have to remember that I’m working with lawyers. Let’s face it. Lawyers really like structure. They like rules. They like their i’s dotted and their t’s crossed. They like to point to things, such as the ABA and their personal state’s bar association, to confirm and approve whether or not they can or cannot do or say something. According to the ABA’s Issues Paper, the panel is looking at four main areas of online client development:

  1. social and professional networking services (such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter),
  2. blogging,
  3. “pay-per-click” advertising,
  4. lawyer website.

I’m not ready to scream “Big Brother,” yet, but I am concerned that the ABA will overly regulate the PRACTICES, INTEGRATION and ADOPTION of social media and social networking to the extent that personal speech, along with the ability to generate new business or advertise your current practice, in the social web will be jeopardized. You can join the discussion on the CMO Forum Group on LinkedIn (join the group and you’ll be approved) and/or follow on Twitter at #ABARegs. (UPDATED) In the meantime, what say you, Coolerites??

  • Heather –

    I think it’s useful to go back to 1999 and look at what the ABA did for email. They issued an opinion that using email could preserve client confidentiality. That opinion opened the floodgates for lawyers using email. (I looked back at my email archives and saw an enormous spike in email traffic that began in 1999.)

    I agree that another layer of regulation is not going to help. But positive guidance from the ABA would be a good thing.

  • Heather – I appreciate you covering this topic, and thought that you and your readers might like to know that the Legal Marketing Association has a Task Force, Chaired by past LMA President Kim Perret, specifically focused on monitoring the developments of, and providing input to, the ABA Ethics 20/20 Commission.

    I formed the LMA task force last year after learning of the 20/20 Commission and meeting with then-ABA President Lamm (who formed the 20/20 Commission). As many in our community know, the ABA takes a top-down look at its Model Rules only once about every decade. While opinions on the Rules, and states’ implementation of them, certainly vary, I believe the LMA community should be heard in this effort.

    Anyone interested in contributing to the LMA task force effort should contact Kim Perret, CMO of Hunton & Williams in Washington, DC. LMA will be doing some additional communication about this effort in the coming weeks.

    Thanks again for raising this important topic.

    Nathan Darling
    2010 President, Legal Marketing Association

    • Thanks, Nathan. I’m going to see if I can pull those comments and add a section on the Legal Watercooler so people can find them easily.

      Heather

  • Doug is right that positive guidance would be good. However, if the ABA Model Rules on attorney advertising are any guide, what we’ll get is fairly comprehensive regulation – which will then be applied by many states (like Florida and New York) in ways completely at odds with the First Amendment.

  • Pingback: ABA, Social Media and a time to panic? | Legal Marketing: Social Media Edition()

  • Pingback: 22,500 Tears (Update with Marketer Response) | Orlando Accident Lawyer()

  • Pingback: My Picks for Notable Posts of the Week 11/5/2010 « Shatterbox()

  • Pingback: Much Ado About Nothing? « Attorney Credits Legal Blog()

  • Pingback: Austin Texas Legal Marketing and Social Media for Lawyers()