Much Ado About LinkedIn Endorsements

big-whoop

Whether you’re unconvinced that LinkedIn is useful for anything, if you maintain a profile there, you should spend a minute or three understanding the potential consequences of approving endorsements. But that’s about all the time you need to spend.

Not too long ago, Bob Ambrogi asked: Do LinkedIn Endorsements Violate Legal Ethics? Bob does a great job providing a variety of sources on the issue, so I won’t repeat them here. From his research, while admitting he’s not an ethics expert, he concludes:

I think it is significant that LinkedIn provides the ability to “hide” endorsements others have given you. (You can hide any single endorsement or choose to hide all endorsements by default.) If someone gives you an endorsement that you believe is false or misleading, and if you do not remove it, then you are effectively accepting it and allowing it to be communicated to anyone who views your LinkedIn profile. To my mind, that brings it within the purview of Model Rule 7.1.

Generally speaking, I share Bob’s view that lawyers shouldn’t approve false or misleading endorsements, whether on LinkedIn or elsewhere. I also tend to agree with Josh King in that attorneys shouldn’t obsess about having endorsements on their LinkedIn profiles. Especially when those endorsements are lightweight, non-substantive and are rationally related to the attorney’s practice, not false or misleading, and further, that an attempt by a state bar to completely prohibit them would be unconstitutional.

But who cares what I think. Each lawyer is responsible for acting compliantly with their state’s rules. To me, it’s the legal ethics paranoia to the point of paralysis that’s becoming more and more of a problem.

I don’t mean to trivialize the issues related to practicing law and internet technologies. Lawyers should understand their ethical obligations. Lawyers should act to protect their clients, the profession and the public at-large from false and misleading information. But lawyers shouldn’t find themselves so confused about what they can and cannot do that they simply decide to do nothing.

Time and again, lawyers with good intentions set out to learn more about their ethical obligations on one technology or another. They read their rules. They call their bars. They attend CLEs.

And after a bit of discussion and deliberation, they are persuaded that they’re better off avoiding “this stuff” altogether.

And of course, some will say, “This is exactly right. Practicing law is serious business. The stakes are too high. There are simply too many nuances with this internet stuff. In the interests of protecting clients and the public, lawyers should not participate.”

But does this really help? Does this achieve the desired result?

When people go online to learn more about a lawyer, is it better that they can’t find anything about them?

Of course lawyers shouldn’t encourage, endorse or approve, whether actively or tacitly, false or misleading information about them or the law. That would be bad. But why not help lawyers understand “this stuff” so that they can make their own informed decisions about its appropriate use?

It seems to me that the balance between due diligence obligations and fear-mongering is out of whack.

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  • Mark

    I hide my endorsements because I have been endorsed by countless people I do not know. There is now a sub-group of linkedin users who are “open-endorsers”, that will endorse total strangers. I agree that lawyers should not be overly paranoid about violating an ethics rule by accepting endorsements. However, I think there is a moral obligation not to present yourself to the internet world as being substantively endorsed, when all you are doing is being endorsed by random linkedin users.

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/gyitsakalakis/ Gyi Tsakalakis

      It’s unfortunate that LinkedIn has seemingly made endorsement showing “all or nothing” (if someone knows how to selectively show/hide endorsements, please share).

      One thing you can control, are the “skills” for which you can be endorsed. Perhaps limiting your skills to non-legal things might dissuade people from arbitrary endorsement. Then again, probably not.

  • A.J.

    What was the consensus on posting the year you graduated? I posted the year I graduated law school but not undergrad. I think my clients are entitled to know how long I’ve been practicing, but not how old I am.

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

      I don’t think we reached a consensus, actually, other than that the rules probably don’t require you to post your graduation dates.

  • Vivian Rodriguez

    From time to time, I have received endorsements from people I don’t know and who have not been exposed to my work, even tangentially. Because I don’t value them, I had not spent time finding out whether I could hide these things…they simply showed up and I was sent a notice that someone endorsed me.

    Now that I’ve found out I can hide them, this is what I will do over the weekend–so thank you! I will keep only those from the people who have actually had experience with me.

    But I do agree with you that doing nothing is not good, even if starting to really digging into the rule to see what we are ethically able to do is a pain. It’s better to know our boundaries to see what we can do within them.

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/gyitsakalakis/ Gyi Tsakalakis

      LinkedIn should have used the same functionality for endorsements that they used for recommendations (i.e. you can moderate them on a case-by-case basis).