Be careful who you friend – as they can report you to the (state) bar

Oh, those kids over at the Florida Bar Association are kicking it up again.

My friend (and guest blogger) Gail Lamarche just posted this link over on the Legal Marketing Association‘s member listserv, The Florida Bar Guidelines for Networking Sites (updated as of January 10, 2012).

Before we all start to panic, go read the actual guidelines.

As I have said many times, what you do IRL (in real life) needs to apply online, and that’s what I’m seeing here:

Florida is simply attempting to extend their (overly restrictive, in my opinion) current rules to the social platform.

However, I’m no lawyer, so this is not advice. Just the opinion from the marketing hack.

I think my colleague Igor Ilyinsky said it best, “Be careful who you friend – as they can report you to the (state) bar.”

In other words, you can do it, just don’t be a jerk, piss someone off, and get reported.

Seriously. When was the last time a corporate attorney was reported to the state bar for sending out an email?

So, yes, Virginia, you can have a Facebook page, and you don’t have to include a disclaimer:

Pages of individual lawyers on social networking sites that are used solely for social purposes, to maintain social contact with family and close friends, are not subject to the lawyer advertising rules.

Don’t spam people on LinkedIn:

Invitations sent directly from a social media site via instant messaging to a third party to view or link to the lawyer’s page on an unsolicited basis are solicitations in violation of Rule 4-7.4(a), unless the recipient is the lawyer’s current client, former client, relative, or is another lawyer. Any invitations to view the page sent via e-mail must comply with the direct e-mail rules if they are sent to persons who are not current clients, former clients, relatives, other lawyers, or persons who have requested information from the lawyer. Direct e-mail must comply with the general advertising regulations set forth in Rule 4-7.2 as well as additional requirements set forth in Rule 4-7.6(c). Information on complying with the direct e-mail rules is available in the Handbook on Lawyer Advertising and Solicitation and in the Direct E-Mail Quick Reference Checklist on the Florida Bar website.

Watch those testimonials:

Although lawyers are responsible for all content that the lawyers post on their own pages, a lawyer is not responsible for information posted on the lawyer’s page by a third party, unless the lawyer prompts the third party to post the information or the lawyer uses the third party to circumvent the lawyer advertising rules. If a third party posts information on the lawyer’s page about the lawyer’s services that does not comply with the lawyer advertising rules, the lawyer must remove the information from the lawyer’s page.

If they follow you on Twitter, they are signing up to receive what you send:

Lawyers who post information to Twitter whose postings are generally accessible are subject to the lawyer advertising regulations set forth in Rule 4-7.2 as above. A lawyer may post information via Twitter and may restrict access to the posts to the lawyer’s followers, who are persons who have specifically signed up to receive posts from that lawyer. If access to a lawyer’s Twitter postings is restricted to the followers of the particular lawyer, the information posted there is information at the request of a prospective client and is not subject to the lawyer advertising rules under Rule 4-7.1(h).

Keep it simple and you don’t have to report it:

Finally, the Standing Committee on Advertising is of the opinion that a page on a networking site is sufficiently similar to a website of a lawyer or law firm that pages on networking sites are not required to be filed with The Florida Bar for review.

And, in the words of Wendy L. Patrick, don’t engage in false or predatory friending. Use your manners, and common sense.

Now, I obviously cut and pasted information that I wanted to highlight from the Florida Bar Association. There’s more to read, so go read it, here.

As a marketing director, I do encourage every attorney to connect on LinkedIn with people they meet. You’ve MET them already. It’s okay.

If you speak at a conference, and they give you their business card, send a request to connect on LinkedIn (Jim, it was great meeting you at the ABC conference earlier this week. Next time you’re in L.A. make sure to give me a call. I’d love to grab a cup of coffee with you).

If you attend a conference, and hear great speakers, connect with them on LinkedIn (Mr. Smith. I heard you speak at the ABC conference this week and really enjoyed what you had to say on XYZ. I’d like to add you to my LinkedIn connections).

My marketing advice is simple: Conduct yourself online as you would in the real world. Be authentic. Be polite. Don’t spam. Don’t be a jerk. Don’t engage in predatory friending.

Image via Legal Juice.

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