In a prior post, I discussed the upside of connecting with clients via social media. Without a doubt, there can be abundant benefits from linking up with a client on LinkedIn or tweeting back and forth on Twitter. (I won’t get into “poking” each other on Facebook.) As a general matter, I’m a proponent of doing this. But, at a time when more and more attorneys are getting social savvy, we need to remember that there are potential pitfalls.
These days, we are working at firms and offices where no social sites are blocked or where, if firewalls are in place, people are using their phones and tablets to socially engage. (For those firm administrators who think that they are keeping their employees off of Facebook by throwing up a firewall, my guess is that your efforts have not been as successful as you think.) Many of us update our Facebook page, our Twitter status, or post new pictures to Photobucket or Picasa throughout the day. And for many of us, most of these updates are not work-related.
Having previously sung the praises of connecting with clients on social sites, I feel that a few caveats are warranted. Remember that whatever you do or say online will be available to your clients. True, depending on your privacy settings, this may be the case regardless of whether you have “connected” with them. But if you are “friends” or “followers” of each other, it is a safe bet that what you post will be read by your clients.
Potential problems are obvious
Assume for a minute that you have an upcoming trial, but your Facebook status is “I’ve spent the whole week writing a Complaint; I’m up to 300 paragraphs.” The client who is headed for trial may wonder why you aren’t working his or her matter. Now, whether the concern is legitimate, the client is likely to have it. Consider the same scenario but your Twitter feed over 3-days, including posts made throughout the day, distills down to “I’m bored at work and can’t wait for the weekend.” How does that come across?
Another possible scenario
You told a client that you will have Project X done by a certain date but, for whatever reason (valid or not), you haven’t been to complete it. Your client is waiting for you to complete Project X all the while reading middle-of-the-day Facebook posts that are entirely unrelated to your job. Wouldn’t you wonder why your lawyer is surfing Facebook or tweeting like crazy when you know that there is work that has not been completed? Potential examples are limitless: what if you are posting about an unrelated matter when something more pressing is on your calendar? (“Getting ready for next month’s trial” the day before a big hearing on a motion for summary judgment).
The question you need to ask yourself is: “What message am I sending to my clients and how might my clients interpret this message?” It is safe to assume that clients understand we have a variety of matters to work on and that, like everyone else, we are using social media during the day, even when we’re at the office? And I would guess that most clients are not too concerned with the social media posts their lawyers are posting. But as we expand our networks and increase our level of interaction with clients and potential clients, it is important to think about both: (1) the actual message being sent; and (2) how that message will be interpreted by any given client (or all of them for that matter).
About the author: Tyson B. Snow is a founding partner at Mumford West & Snow, LLC, in Salt Lake City. His practice focuses on management-side employment litigation and all facets of tech-related and IP litigation. He regularly presents and writes on the interplay of social media and the law and authors the Social Media, Esq.™ blog. You can follow him on Twitter at: @tysonESQ.