The Law Society representing solicitors in England and Wales issued a practice note for the use of social media by lawyers. It covers considerable ground including ethical obligations and the application of Principles in the SRA Handbook to the use of social media. Some of the highlights include the following;
You must act with integrity
Personal integrity is central to your role as the client’s trusted advisor and should characterise all your professional dealings with clients, the court, other lawyers and the public.
You must not allow your independence to be compromised
‘Independence’ means your own and your firm’s independence, and not merely your ability to give independent advice to a client. You should avoid situations which might put your independence at risk.
You must behave in a way that maintains the trust the public places in you and in the provision of legal services
The practice note includes advice relating to the obligations arising from the solicitor-client relationship. It includes the following advice:
Previous or current online relationship
If you first form a relationship with a client through social media there is no reason for you and your client to cease interracting via social media.
However, if you continue to have an online relationship with a client or form an online relationship with a client, you should consider whether you might breach any of the Principles or requirements in the SRA Code.
For example: It may be that a client contacts you via LinkedIn and you become ‘contacts’ with that client. You must take into account chapter 4 on Confidentiality and disclosure and whether simply being ‘contacts’ with a client on LinkedIn, thus acknowledging that you have a link with that client, would result in a breach of any of the outcomes in this chapter. In this situation you should also think about chapter 1 on Client care and whether contact with a client via social media may affect your obligations to provide a proper standard of service.
No existing online relationship
Even if you do not have a relationship with clients via social media, you should take account of the fact that your presence on social media channels like weblogs and micro-blogging sites may inadvertently impact on your professional obligations towards your clients.
For example: If you comment on Twitter that you are in a certain location at a certain time, you may unintentionally disclose that you are working with a client and breach outcome (4.1) in chapter 4 on Confidentiality and disclosure ‘you must keep the affairs of clients confidential unless disclosure is required or permitted by law or the client consents’.