Websites, blogs, and social networking sites are becoming used more and more by the legal profession. They have become one of the most efficient and effective ways for legal professionals to both communicate, as well as, interact with clients, prospective clients, and the general public.
However, these web technologies are not without serious ethical implications and consequences. Recently, the American Bar Association has shed some light on its position with regard to the ethical implications of legal web strategy.
First, on August 5, 2010, the ABA Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility released Formal Opinion 10-457 on Lawyer Websites. The opinion addresses website ethical issues including:
- Misleading information on websites
- Expectations of visitors created by websites
- Inquiries invited through websites
- Issues surrounding the client-lawyer relationship
- Responses to website-initiated inquiries about legal services
While lawyers should consult the rules of professional responsibility in their own jurisdiction, this opinion is helpful in terms of avoiding some of the most common mistakes.
Next, on September 20, 2010 the ABA Commission on Ethics 20/20 Working Group on the Implications of New Technologies, released an Issue Paper Concerning Lawyers’ Use of Internet Based Client Development Tools. The paper asks for comments on various aspects of legal web strategy including:
- Online Social and Professional Networking Services
- Blogging and Discussion Forums
- Paying for Online Advertising, Referrals, and Leads
- Lawyer Websites
The Commission is asking for comment from ABA Entities, Courts, Bar Associations (state, local, specialty and international), Law Schools, Individuals, and Entities. The Commission asks that responses to these questions or comments on any related issues should be directed by December 15, 2010, and includes contact information to whom responses should be directed.
These issues obviously present some challenges for legal professionals, as well as, some major players in the online marketing/advertising world, including Google. There is no doubt that how the rules evolve to address these issues will play a major role in the way lawyers communicate, interact, and engage Internet users.
So what do you think? Has the ABA properly framed these issues? What do you anticipate will be the likely outcome?