Back in February 2012, the International Bar Association (IBA) published their results of their, “Impact of Online Social Networking on the Legal Profession & Practise,” survey, looking at how its members and affiliated bar associations (Currently the IBA has over 200 worldwide affiliated associations)* viewed the advantages and disadvantages of social media on the profession as a whole. Law societies around the world were in almost unanimous agreement at 92% believing that online social networks (OSN) presented new challenges to the profession, while also recognizing that the advantages for both professionals and legal businesses outweighed the pitfalls.
For many social media, engagement has become a part of their daily routine both in their personal and professional lives, whether it be communicating with friends or reaching out to new business. As a legal professional, it is incredibly important to remain aware of the possible side effects of the content that you choose to engage, and the effect that in may have on your life both personally and professionally.
When respondents did comment on the disadvantages of OSN, their concerns focused on the, “…perception of lack of judicial independence, as well as risks of defamation, libel, and slander…” The most pressing concern being echoed by the Bar Association of the Cayman Islands, “The integrity and professionalism of the legal profession must be retained…” The integrity and the ethics of the legal profession should never be pushed to the point of being brought into question as a result of OSN.
OSN has already brought its challenges to the courts vis-à-vis misuse by jurors, privacy and privilege, and issues regarding personal conduct and ethics. The remedy to the problems brought about by social media according to 95% of respondents was the education of legal professionals to include a compulsory grounding in proper use, and ethical and professional considerations particular to the legal profession.
The Law Society of Upper Canada has already been running educational seminars. They have done so in the form of podcasts (now available by transcript), focusing on the use of OSN, and other new and emerging technologies including blogging, cloud computing and wireless security. Although these are geared specifically toward individual legal professionals, they have also drafted a contract for law firms seeking to protect themselves from the actions of their employees.
As technologies evolve so must the law, but also those who purport to stand for the law. Legal professionals must take proper precautions to protect themselves and their firms, and many would argue that starts with being educated and aware of the new challenges of emerging technologies and communication tools.
*None of the associations included in the survey completed by the IBA, were based in Canada.