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??