Category Archives: Lawyer social media ethics

New Jersey Supreme Court opinion holds that lawyers accused of improper Facebook access can be charged with ethics violations

 

Hello and welcome to this Ethics Alert blog which will discuss the recent Supreme Court of New Jersey opinion which held that lawyers who allegedly engaged in improper conduct related to access of an opposing party’s Facebook page can be charged with disciplinary rule violations.  The disciplinary matter is John J. Robertelli v. The New Jersey Office of Attorney Ethics (A-62-14) (075584) (New Jersey Supreme Court 4/19/16).  The disciplinary opinion is here: http://www.judiciary.state.nj.us/opinions/supreme/A6214JohnRobNJ.pdf

According to the opinion, in the underlying matter, the plaintiff sued Bergen County New Jersey related to injuries that he allegedly sustained when a police car struck him in 2007.  The two lawyers represented the plaintiff and:

“(i)n order to obtain information about Hernandez, plaintiffs directed a paralegal employed by the firm to search the internet. Among other sources, she accessed Hernandez’s Facebook page. Initially, the page was open to the public. At a later point, the privacy settings on the account were changed to limit access to Facebook users who were Hernandez’s “friends.” The OAE contends that plaintiffs directed the paralegal to access and continue to monitor the non-public pages of Hernandez’s Facebook account.  She therefore submitted a “friend request” to Hernandez, without revealing that she worked for the law firm representing defendants or that she was investigating him in connection with the lawsuit. Hernandez accepted the friend request, and the paralegal was able to obtain information from the non-public pages of his Facebook account.

The opinion states that the plaintiff learned of the alleged misconduct when the lawyers “sought to add the paralegal as a trial witness and disclosed printouts” from the plaintiff’s Facebook page.  The opinion did not address whether the two lawyers violated any ethics rules or should face sanctions, but whether the New Jersey Office of Attorney Ethics (OAE) could prosecute the lawyers for the alleged misconduct after a regional disciplinary committee found that the lawyers’ actions, even if proven, did not constitute unethical conduct and dismissed the matters.

The OAE disagreed with the disciplinary committee and filed a disciplinary complaint with the Supreme Court against the lawyers.  The complaints alleged, inter alia, that the two lawyers communicated with a represented party without consent of the party’s lawyer and engaged in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.  The two lawyers argued that they acted in good faith and had not committed any unethical conduct. They also stated that they were “unfamiliar with the different privacy settings on Facebook.

The opinion noted the unique nature of this attorney disciplinary matter and stated that it involves a “novel ethical issue” and “no reported case law in our State addresses the sort of conduct alleged.”  The court unanimously held:

“Consistent with the broad authority that the Rules of Court grant the Director and the important goals of the disciplinary process, the Director has authority to review a grievance after a DEC Secretary has declined to docket the grievance. The OAE may therefore proceed to prosecute plaintiffs’ alleged misconduct.”

Bottom line:  Lawyers beware: although this issue has not previously been addressed by the New Jersey Supreme Court (or the Florida Supreme Court), the Florida Bar Rules (and the Bar disciplinary rules of most, if not all jurisdictions, including New Jersey), prohibit a lawyer from communicating with a represented person without the consent of that person’s lawyer.  Florida Bar Rule 4-4.2(a) prohibits lawyers from communicating “about the subject of the representation with a person the lawyer knows to be represented by another lawyer in the matter, unless the lawyer has the consent of the other lawyer.”  The Rule is here:  Florida Bar Rule 4-4.2.  This rule would appear to prohibit a lawyer (or the lawyer’s agent) from accessing an opposing party’s Facebook (or other social media) page by sending a “friend” or other request and obtaining information that has been made private on that person’s settings.

Be careful out there.

If you have any questions about this Ethics Alert or need assistance, analysis, and guidance regarding these or any other ethics, risk management, or other issues, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Disclaimer:  this e-mail is not an advertisement and does not contain any legal advice and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire

Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.

2454 McMullen Booth Road, Suite 431

Clearwater, Florida 33759

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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New York City Bar Association issues ethics opinion addressing LinkedIn profiles and New York attorney advertising rules

Hello and welcome to this Ethics Alert blog which will discuss the recent Formal Opinion of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York Committee on Professional Ethics which concluded that a lawyer’s LinkedIn profile is not subject to New York Bar advertising rules if it is not posted specifically for the purpose of attracting clients and the profile will be considered to be attorney advertising only if it meets all five of the criteria listed in the opinion.  The opinion is Formal Opinion 2015-7: Application of Attorney Advertising Rules to LinkedIn (December 2015) and the link to the opinion is here: http://www.nycbar.org/ethics/ethics-opinions-local/2015opinions/2350-formal-opinion-2015-7-application-of-attorney-advertising-rules-to-linkedin

According to the opinion, a New York lawyer’s LinkedIn profile or other content will be considered to be lawyer advertising only if it meets all five of the following criteria:

  • it is a communication made by or on behalf of the lawyer;
  • the primary purpose of the LinkedIn content is to attract new clients to retain the lawyer for pecuniary gain;
  • the LinkedIn content relates to the legal services offered by the lawyer;
  • the LinkedIn content is intended to be viewed by potential new clients; and
  • the LinkedIn content does not fall within any recognized exception to the definition of attorney advertising.

The opinion further states that “(g)iven the numerous reasons that lawyers use LinkedIn, it should not be presumed that an attorney who posts information about herself on LinkedIn necessarily does so for the primary purpose of attracting paying clients. For example, including a list of ‘Skills’, a description of one’s practice areas, or displaying ‘Endorsements’ or ‘Recommendations’, without more, does not constitute attorney advertising.”

The opinion concludes that: “(i)f an attorney’s individual LinkedIn profile or other content meets the definition of attorney advertising, the attorney must comply with the requirements of Rules 7.1, 7.4 and 7.5, including, but not limited to: (1) labeling the LinkedIn content ‘Attorney Advertising’; (2) including the name, principal law office address and telephone number of the lawyer; (3) pre-approving any content posted on LinkedIn; (4) preserving a copy for at least one year; and (5) refraining from false, deceptive or misleading statements. These are only some of the requirements associated with attorney advertising. Before disseminating any advertisements, whether on social media or otherwise, the attorney should ensure that those advertisements comply with all requirements set forth in Article 7 of the New York Rules.

Bottom line:  According to this New York City ethics opinion, a LinkedIn profile will not be considered to be a lawyer advertisement unless certain conditions are met.  It is my opinion that most, if not all, other jurisdictions would agree with this analysis and opinion.  This opinion provides a good summary of the conditions which may cause a LinkedIn profile to become a lawyer  advertisement.

Be careful out there!

Disclaimer:  this e-mail is not an advertisement and does not contain any legal advice and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire

Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.

2454 McMullen Booth Road, Suite 431

Clearwater, Florida 33759

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

NOTICE OF CONFIDENTIALITY:  This electronic communication and the information contained herein is legally privileged and confidential proprietary information intended only for the individual and/or entity to whom it is addressed pursuant to the American Bar Association Formal Opinion No. 99-413, dated March 10, 1999 and all other applicable laws and rules.  If you receive this transmission in error, you are advised that any disclosure, copying, distribution, or the taking of any action in reliance upon the communication is strictly prohibited.  Any unauthorized use, distribution, or disclosure of this communication is strictly prohibited.  If you have received this in error, please notify us immediately by return e-mail at the above telephone number and then delete message entirely from your system.  Thank you for your cooperation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Louisiana lawyer disbarred for social media campaign with “false, misleading and inflammatory statements” to influence custody case

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent Louisiana Supreme Court disciplinary opinion disbarring a lawyer who, inter alia, made false statements and used Twitter and an online petition to urge readers to contact two presiding judges who she alleged were unwilling to consider the evidence in two child custody cases involving allegations of sexual abuse.  The disciplinary opinion is In Re: Joyce Nanine McCool, No. 2015-B-0284 (June 30, 2015) and the opinion is online here: http://www.lasc.org/opinions/2015/15B0284.opn.pdf

According to the opinion, the lawyer solicited others to make ex-parte contact with presiding judges and the Louisiana Supreme Court to make comments about the cases, which were sealed and confidential proceedings.  The opinion referred to several examples of the lawyer’s media comments, including this tweet: “GIMME GIMME GIMME Evidence! Want some? I got it. Think u can convince a judge to look at it? Sign this petition.”  “Another tweet said, ―Judge

Gambrell at it again – turned a 4 YO child over to a validated abuser – PLEASE TELL ME WHAT IT WILL TAKE FOR EVERYON [sic] TO SAY ‗ENOUGH‘.”

The lawyer also made the following comment: “Please sign the petition, circulate it to all of your friends and families and call Judge Amacker and Judge Gambrell during the hours of 8:30 to 5:00 starting Monday, August 15 to ask why they won’t follow the law and protect these children. Let them know you’re watching and expect them to do their job and most of all, make sure these precious little girls are safe!”

The opinion stated: “These online articles and postings by respondent contain numerous false, misleading, and inflammatory statements about the manner in which (the presiding judges) were handling the pending cases. But respondent denies any responsibility for these misstatements, contending these were ―Raven‘s perceptions of what had happened‖ and respondent was simply ―helping [Raven] get her voice out there.”

The lawyer argued that her conduct was protected by the First Amendment; however, the majority of the Court rejected that argument. “We disagree and take strong exception to respondent’s artful attempt to use the First Amendment as a shield against her clearly and convincingly proven ethical misconduct.” The opinion also stated that the lawyer had an “utter lack of remorse” and a “defiant attitude” by asserting her actions had First Amendment protection.  “The appropriate method for challenging a judge’s decisions and evidentiary rulings, as respondent even conceded, is through the writ and appeal process, not by starting a social media blitz to influence the judges’ and this court’s rulings in pending matters and then claiming immunity from discipline through the First Amendment.”

A disciplinary hearing committee conducted a hearing on February 27, 2014, and March 27, 2014 in which both presiding judges testified. The lawyer also testified and repeatedly denied that she violated the Rules of Professional Conduct.  She also implied and/or stated that her conduct was justified by what the judges had done in the underlying cases and in the interest of protecting the minor children.  The hearing committee recommended that the lawyer be found guilty and recommended a suspension of a year and a day and the disciplinary board concurred.

The opinion concluded: “Respondent’s misconduct is further distinguishable because of her use of the internet and social media to facilitate her misconduct.  As a result, the petition and associated offensive postings had and still have the potential to reach a large number of people world-wide and remain present and accessible on the world wide web even today.  Coupled with her complete lack of remorse and admitted refusal to simply allow our system of review to work without seeking outside interference, respondent’s misconduct reflects a horrifying lack of respect for the dignity, impartiality, and authority of our courts and our judicial process as a whole.”

“Respondent’s social media campaign conducted outside the sealed realm of the underlying judicial proceedings constitutes, in our view, an intolerable disservice to these traditions and our judicial system, which the constraints of our rules of professional conduct seek to safeguard against. Accordingly, we find her ethical misconduct warrants the highest of sanction—disbarment.”

Bottom line:  This lawyer’s misconduct involved the extensive use of social media in a campaign to discredit the judicial system/obtain justice for the children.  The Louisiana Supreme Court found that her misconduct “reflects a horrifying lack of respect for the dignity, impartiality, and authority of our courts and our judicial process as a whole.”  All lawyers must be very wary of using social media to promote their clients’ causes.  This lawyer’s use of social media led to her disbarment.

Be careful out there.

Disclaimer:  this e-mail is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire

Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.

2454 McMullen Booth Road, Suite 431

Clearwater, Florida 33759

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

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New York ethics opinion provides guidance for lawyers regarding the ethical implications of attorney profiles and content on LinkedIn

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent New York ethics opinion which provides guidance to lawyers who use LinkedIn.com for professional enhancement as well as the ethical implications of attorney profiles.  The opinion is New York County Lawyers Association Professional Ethics Committee Formal Opinion 748 (March 10, 2015) and the link to the formal opinion is here: https://www.nycla.org/siteFiles/Publications/Publications1748_0.pdf

As the opinion notes, LinkedIn is a business-oriented social networking website which has become popular and is now commonly used by lawyers.  LinkedIn allows a lawyer to create a profile with background information, including work history and education, and links to other users based on their experience or connections.  Lawyers can also use the site to communicate with acquaintances, locate someone with a particular skill or background or to keep up with other lawyers’ professional activities and job changes.  The lawyer can also publish educational information on the site’s home page or create separate LinkedIn page.  I have a LinkedIn blog page which is here: https://www.linkedin.com/groups?home=&gid=4043538&trk=groups_most_recent-h-logo

The opinion cautions that a lawyer’s content may be an advertisement and that New York Rule of Professional Conduct 7.1 prohibits attorneys and law firms from disseminating an advertisement that contains false or misleading statements and/or claims.  The term “advertisement” includes “communications made in any form about the lawyer’s services, the primary purpose of which is retention of the lawyer or law firm for pecuniary gain as a result of the communication.”

The New York rule permits attorneys to include educational experience, but prohibits undisclosed paid endorsements and fictitious portrayals or references to lawyers not associated with the firm.  The New York rule also requires online content which is an advertisement to be labeled as “Attorney Advertising” and advertisements must also include a disclaimer that results are not guaranteed.

The opinion concludes that “(a)ttorneys may maintain profiles on LinkedIn, containing information such as education, work history, areas of practice, skills, and recommendations written by other LinkedIn users. A LinkedIn profile that contains only one’s education and current and past employment does not constitute Attorney Advertising. If an attorney includes additional information in his or her profile, such as a description of areas of practice or certain skills or endorsements, the profile may be considered Attorney Advertising, and should contain the disclaimers set forth in Rule 7.1. Categorizing certain information under the heading ‘Skills’ or ’Endorsements’ does not, however, constitute a claim to be a ‘Specialist’ under Rule 7.4, and is accordingly not barred, provided that the information is truthful and accurate.”

“Attorneys must ensure that all information in their LinkedIn profiles is truthful and not misleading, including endorsements and recommendations written by other LinkedIn users. If an attorney believes an endorsement or recommendation is not accurate, the attorney should exclude it from his or her profile. New York lawyers should periodically monitor and review the content of their LinkedIn profiles for accuracy.”

Bottom line:  As the opinion states, lawyers should carefully monitor their social media content to insure that it complies with the ethics rules in the lawyer’s jurisdiction(s).  If a communication is primarily intended to obtain clients and for pecuniary gain (and contains information that goes beyond the “tombstone language” permitted in that jurisdiction), the communication will most likely be considered to be an advertisement and all relevant rules of advertising must be followed.  This would efforts to insure that all information is accurate, that the content is not misleading, and the inclusion of any relevant disclaimers.  The Florida Bar’s advertising rules are similar to New York’s; however, lawyers in jurisdictions other than New York should not rely on this opinion and must review and comply with the relevant advertising rules.

Be careful out there.

Disclaimer:  this e-mail is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire

Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.

2454 McMullen Booth Road, Suite 431

Clearwater, Florida 33759

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Attorney Ethics, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, Lawyer ethics opinions, Lawyer ethics opinions Linkedin.com, Lawyer responsibilities AVVO and Linkedin, Lawyer social media ethics, Lawyers and social media