The Seven Sins of Social Media

It’s clear that social media is here to stay, and that the legal market is changing because of it. The ABA has gone so far as to consider new rules to regulate ethical behavior online. Some states are also proposing specific rules for online advertising. Nearly eighty percent of the top one hundred law firms are using Twitter. Law firms and attorneys can use social media to connect with clients and find new clients, but many of them don’t do it well. There are several mistakes that are common to attorneys and law firms using social media sites. Are you or your firm violating one of these seven sins of social media?

To have a strong, reputable online presence, you should avoid these common social media sins:


The purpose of social media is to be social. That means lurking on blogs should definitely be avoided. What’s lurking? Constantly visiting a blog, enjoying the content, but never commenting or engaging in discussion. If you want to just read articles, go read a newspaper. Blogs are a terrific opportunity to get information but also contribute your own opinion and get involved in a discussion. When you begin discussing, you grow your online reputation one byte at a time.

Over Sharing

We are all familiar with people that over share on their social media accounts. Nobody cares what you had for breakfast. Unless it’s bacon of course. Then you have my express permission to update your status accordingly.

Lawyers are just as guilty as everyone else in oversharing, but when a lawyer overshares, he can cause serious problems for his client or his own career. For example, one Florida lawyer, complaining about a judge on his blog, agreed to be publically reprimanded for the comments. Discussing details of your case can result in a waiver of the attorney-client privilege. So think twice before complaining about a client or bragging about a well-written motion.

Failing to Define Yourself

Crafting and maintaining your online presence should go towards a larger goal: branding. Whether it’s a law firm or your personal online presence, you should have a consistent brand across your social media profiles. But that brand needs to be more than a profile picture and a tag line. How do you want to be known? Maybe you’re the top personal injury lawyer in Detroit. If so, you better be tweeting about things related to personal injury cases. If you’re a real estate attorney and that’s your image, you need to make some kind of comment when new zoning laws are announced in your town. Whatever niche you’re going for, embrace it. Talk about it, and discuss developments in that area to fully define your online image.

Taking Content without Giving Credit

This seems pretty self-explanatory. You want people to share links to your website and promote good content that you produce. That won’t happen if you take the idea for a blog post from someone without giving credit. You’ll be defining yourself, but not in a good way. Giving credit on a blog is very easy. Just a simple line like “Hat tip to for the link” is all you need to do.

Getting Overwhelmed

With countless Twitter updates, Facebook timelines, and blog posts all happening constantly, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. A productive day at work can quickly spiral into a series of re-tweets and Facebook photo comments if you’re not careful. The key is setting up a system. My system is relatively simple. I keep all of the people I follow on Twitter in lists. I check the lists in order of importance when I have time. For Facebook, I just make it a rule to never log on during the work day. It’s as easy as that. I use Google Reader to keep track of every website that I visit. At work, I just skim headlines and star things that sound interesting. I mark everything else as read. That means when I get home I can check Facebook, read the articles I want to read, and be completely caught up within an hour.

Talking to Strangers

An issue unique to attorneys on social media sites is the risk of giving legal advice. My friend is a personal trainer, and he can answer any Twitter reply or Facebook message with very little risk of losing his job. For attorneys, talking to strangers is rarely a good idea. It’s very easy for people to ask questions and provide very few facts, then rely heavily on the short, broad answers they are given. That creates multiple risks for the attorney. First of all, without knowing much about the person, it is very easy to give bad advice. If they’re in a jurisdiction where you aren’t licensed, you may have practiced law illegally. Finally, they may rely on you and believe that you are now their lawyer. That could open you up to litigation or bar discipline down the road.

I know what you’re thinking. I just told you that you need to participate on blogs and other socially geared sites. How are you supposed to do that with all of these risks? It’s not easy. You have to be careful. A good rule of thumb is to think of every online conversation like a cocktail party. If the subject is something you would feel comfortable discussing with a few people you just met, then go for it. But if someone asks a question that you would have them come into the office to discuss, shy away online the same way you would at a party.

Keeping it too Formal

A great way to scare away potential clients and followers is to keep your online presence cold and shut off. If you can imagine Joe Friday’s Twitter feed, you’ve got an idea of where I’m going. Social media should go beyond just the facts. Sure, you should be talking about your love of bankruptcy law. But people want to hear that you’re pregnant or you just ran a marathon or your sister is visiting from out of town. Again, there is a fine line here between opening up and being warm as opposed to oversharing. To walk this tightrope, I think about conversations I have at work. Would I discuss a new criminal law case with my fellow clerks? Definitely. Tell them how much I regretted that new Mexican restaurant? Maybe not. But I would tell them about a great run I had. It’s all about figuring out how much you’re willing to open up, and making sure you aren’t sharing too much.



  1. Avatar Wade Coye says:

    Thanks for the parallel of the cocktail party. I think that’s an excellent way to approach being friendly and sociable, while still remembering that the people you are connecting with may not necessarily be your clients, and that saying too much can walk the line that separates clients from non-clients.

  2. Great thoughts. I agree with most all of them. As an early Twitter adopter, I had to learn much of this stuff on my own. Thanks again.

  3. Avatar Jennifer G. says:

    This is a good post. I do want to stick up for the lurkers. I get a few comments every once and awhile on my estate planning blog, but I’ve gotten quite a few clients and some national recognition because of people who look but don’t engage. Lurkers are welcomed on my blog. Now, if your purpose is to create a web presence, you want to do more than lurk.

  4. Avatar mallory says:

    Great article and applicable to most small businesses. Especially liked the point about branding.

  5. Avatar Jabez LeBret says:

    This is probably the best written advice for social media and the legal industry I have ever seen. Well done! There is a great balance of don’t do too much and make sure you are active. The good news is that should keep it from becoming too overwhelming.

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