This seems to be the message of an article in this week’s National Law Journal, which was called to our attention by Ann Lee Gibson in her new Law Firm Competitive Intelligence blog.

Noting an increase in the reliance of law firm marketing efforts on competitive intelligence research, the author, marketing partner of the Texas law firm Winstead, frets about the extent to which fact-finding on the internet through diverse sources such as Facebook and personal Web sites may constitute unethical intrusion into the lives and activities of firm marketing prospects.

Ann dispenses with most of these concerns in an extensive post.

Frankly, I was never worried if some law firm or other firm CI manager was going to use my musical Web site or Linked In profile to gain questionable information about my firm’s marketing tactics or business development prospects. However, I have begun to recognize that promoting the use of social networking and other self-informational sites for business development has its downside.

The partnership of and Linked In has a persuasive effect on the use factor of these tools. For one thing, it enables to claim a social network function without having to build their own, and may cause lawyers and law firms to expand their “Martindale footprint” by participating in Linked In.

It also may cause lawyers who have been substituting social networking for a profile to reconsider exiting entirely. After all, why give up the credibility of a Martindale appearance if you can “double dip” the trust factor by going modern on Linked In and also being old school on Martindale.

Our partners Jayne Navarre and Heather Milligan have opined more extensively and more authoritatively on Linked In and Martindale here and here. And, like Ann Gibson, I find it silly to suppose that lawyers or their CI staff will slip over some moral or ethical line just to get an inside track on the possible legal services buys of a particular business or individual. (No cracks about PI lawyers, now, people.)

Still, when there are so many sites where we and our lawyers can “let it all hang out”, we certainly need to be wary of the same proprieties that we would need to recognize in a face-to-face networking venue. Be polite, be interesting, but keep the secret or strange stuff to yourself. ‘Nuff said.