Q: I need legal advice. Can I find an attorney
like many other professionals, are using social media and websites to develop
new relationships with those seeking legal representation. But hiring an
attorney online will likely be a multi-step process due to restrictions on lawyers
regarding advertising and the obligation to keep client information private.
Q: Why can’t an attorney just tweet or post on
Facebook the answers to my legal questions?
social media makes easy for someone to find an attorney, there are many reasons
why the attorney is unlikely to answer your question online in real time. Several
of these are listed below.
Confidentiality. Generally, lawyers owe their clients
and prospective clients the right to keep information shared about a legal
matter private, unless the client gives consent to share it with others.
Exchanges posted on a social media site are hardly private; anyone with access
to the site can view communications. For this reason, new rules have been proposed
to help ensure that lawyers behave professionally in a world filled with social
media. The rules require attorneys to not only be mindful of their
conversations online, but also to be very familiar with the technology they use
to gather information. Even if you and the attorney share information privately
through your personal email, a direct Twitter message or a contact form on the
lawyer’s own website, the attorney must be familiar with whatever online service
you are using to exchange information, as well as the privacy settings of that
Jurisdiction. If someone is communicating online,
it’s not always easy to determine where that person is physically located or
where the legal matter at issue took place. Lawyers are only allowed to represent
clients in jurisdictions where they are licensed to practice. For example, a
lawyer licensed to practice only in Ohio cannot give specific legal advice to a
person whose legal issue is in Michigan.
Conflicts of interest. Lawyers must avoid discussing legal
matters with anyone who might have interests that conflict with that lawyer’s
existing clients. If a lawyer simply responds in real-time to a person online
in hopes of signing up a new client, that lawyer may later discover that the
new client is involved in a legal matter in opposition to another client who is
currently being represented by the lawyer or the lawyer’s firm. Lawyer ethics
do not allow such a “conflict of interest,” so the lawyer will not be able to
represent the new client.
Q: If lawyers won’t provide answers online, why
are they using social media?
certain restrictions and obligations make providing online legal advice
difficult, a lawyer can provide general
legal information to educate the public. Such educational information is likely
to include a statement indicating that the information provided is general and
not a substitute for personal legal advice. This statement serves as a warning
that the information being provided will not necessarily pertain to an actual
legal situation described by someone who is seeking legal advice. In legal
matters, each case is different and one size does not fit all, but an attorney’s
explanation of the law may help someone know what questions to ask a lawyer
during a consultation about his or her particular case.
Q: Can lawyers answer online questions to
advertise their services?
are bound by specific rules on how they can advertise and solicit business. For
example, lawyers must clearly alert readers or viewers that the information provided
is actually an advertisement. In a social media setting, you may not see a
disclaimer on a tweet or post, but lawyers still must abide by the advertising
and solicitation rules. In the online media setting, a lawyer may, for example,
list the penalties for DWI, and then state that this is general information. The
lawyer may then invite you to submit an email, fill out an online form or call for
additional information. If you do provide information about your particular
legal matter, the lawyer can then take steps to determine if the matter is
within that lawyer’s jurisdiction, that there is no conflict of interest
between you and other clients, and to ensure that what you share will be
This “Law You Can
Use” column was provided by the Ohio State Bar Association. It was prepared by
Columbus attorney Dan Trevas. Articles appearing in this column are
intended to provide broad, general information about the law. Before applying
this information to a specific legal problem, readers are urged to seek advice
from an attorney.
Labels: legal advice, social media