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Social Media and the Legal Field: Bar Inquiries, Facebook Judges, and Jury Twitter Instructions

Over at the Legal Skills Prof Blog, there was mention of a Law Review article entitled The Blurred Boundaries of Social Networking in the Legal Field: Just ‘Face’ It. The article provides a broad overview on ethics and the use of social media by law students, law schools, practioners, and judges. It’s a long and dense article, weighing in at 60 pages. A lot of it was well tread ground, but there were a few items I had not seen before that I wanted to highlight. These are older stories, but I haven’t seen much discussion of them and they’re worth your attention:

Taking the Bar? Open Your Facebook Account

Back in 2009, the Florida Board of Bar Examiners adopted rules requiring Bar applicants to give the Board full access to all social media accounts in the following situations:

  • Applicants who are required to establish rehabilitation under Rule 3-13 “so as to ascertain whether they displayed any malice or ill feeling towards those who were compelled to bring about the proceeding leading to the need to establish rehabilitation;”
  • Applicants with a history of substance abuse/dependence “so as to ascertain whether they discussed or posted photographs of any recent substance abuse;”
  • Applicants with “significant candor concerns” including not telling the truth on employment applications or resumes;
  • Applicants with a history of unlicensed practice of law (UPL) allegations;
  • Applicants who have worked as a certified legal intern, reported self-employment in a legal field, or reported employment as an attorney pending admission “to ensure that these applicants are not holding themselves out as attorneys;”
  • Applicants who have positively responded to Item 27 of the bar application disclosing “involvement in an organization.”

This is merely the first step in my mind. I think that within the next ten years many State Bars around the country will adopt rules requiring all Bar applicants to submit their social media accounts for scrutiny. There is already a background check, fingerprinting, DMV, etc. Social media will become just another step in becoming licensed by the Bar. So future applicants – be careful what you post.

Judges Are Watching You Online

A story from Molly McDonough (Hi Molly!) highlights that even Judges are now observing lawyers on Facebook:

Galveston, Texas-area lawyers on Facebook may want to double-check their friends list, especially if they’re about to appear before Judge Susan Criss.

That’s because Criss, a state court judge who is learning to adapt to social media as a way to connect with long-lost friends and is leveraging Facebook as a judicial campaign tool, has also learned a few things she didn’t expect…

Criss recalled one time that a lawyer asked for a continuance because of the death of her father. The lawyer had earlier posted a string of status updates on Facebook, detailing her week of drinking, going out and partying. But in court, in front of Criss, she told a completely different story.

I bet that was an interesting hearing when the lawyer came back to court. Be careful who you friend, be careful what you post. Check your privacy controls. Use Facebook’s Groups functionality to restrict updates and photos to selcted people only if you are that hard pressed to share photos of your debauchery (The same thing that Google + does with “Circles.” No, it’s not a new thing).

Fed Bench Issues “Twitter Instructions”

Last summer, the Judicial Conference Committee on Court Administration and Case Management developed a set of model jury instructions for all federal judges regarding the use of digital devices and social media.

You, as jurors, must decide this case based solely on the evidence presented here within the four walls of this courtroom… Please do not try to find out information from any source outside the confines of this courtroom.

You may not communicate with anyone about the case on your cell phone, through e-mail, Blackberry, iPhone, text messaging, or on Twitter, through any blog or website, through any internet chat room, or by way of any other social networking websites, including Facebook, My Space, LinkedIn, and YouTube.

The model instructions may be found here (PDF link).

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Like I stated above, it’s a long article but there are a number of interesting bits throughout. If you’re interested about social media and its interaction with the legal field, it’s worth a read.  If you want to keep up with news and insight regarding Social Media and the Legal Field, follow me on Twitter.

Vinson, Kathleen Elliott, The Blurred Boundaries of Social Networking in the Legal Field: Just ‘Face’ it (March 25, 2011). University of Memphis Law Review, Vol. 41, p. 355, 2010; Suffolk University Law School Research Paper No. 10-37. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1666462

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About Keith Lee

I'm the founder and editor of Associate's Mind. I like to write, talk, and think about law, professional development, technology, and whatever else floats my boat. I practice law in Birmingham, AL.

4 comments

  1. I am not surprised that the Judicial Conference Committee got a lot of things wrong in their proposed instructions. Most obviously, it’s “Myspace,” formerly “MySpace” (never had the space in the name). It also jumbles up communication channels like email and text messaging with devices (iPhone / Blackberry) and with services (Facebook et al.). And what is the difference between the “internet” and “websites”?

    I think it was a mistake to go down the path of spelling out specific services in the first place; I don’t know what the future will bring, but I will guess that the omission of Google+ will eventually look odd.

    That being said, there have been enough examples of bad social media jury behavior that such an instruction makes sense–just keep it general, everyone.

    • I believe the internet moves through a series of tubes to deliver websites?

      I’d agree that any attempt to give specific examples will probably look foolish in the long run. Better off to say “Jurors are restricted from using any means of electronic communication.”

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