We are all connected through technology via these things called Apps which include WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to name a few. However have you ever thought about the effects these social networks could have on case and the law profession?

Social networks have become platforms where we express our feelings, opinions whether social or political, who we are with or what we doing. However just like everything in life there are consequences that we need to be aware of.  Yes, social networks have its advantages such as getting and receiving products and service referrals, receiving support from like-minded individual, sharing political beliefs, accessing news in real time etc.

However like everything else there are also disadvantages that most of us are not aware of or only become aware of these after having a tragic experience whilst using the social networks. Let us look at some common disadvantages:

  1. Backlash – when potentially offensive content is posted online, the feedback can be excessive and sometimes brutal. Backlash could have a long-term impact on a person’s life and future, especially in a world that has fallen prey to over-sharing.
  2. Risk of fraud or identity theft – not a lot of people are aware of this and I must admit I was one of those people, that all the information we innocently post of social media is available to anyone whose clever enough to access it. Makes you feel naked and exposed doesn’t it?
  3. Corporate invasion of privacy – have you ever wondered why so many companies are always calling you and offering some type of products and ask yourself where did they get your information? Well here’s the answer, social networking has invited major corporations to invade your privacy and sell your personal information.

These are just a few of the many disadvantages that most of us are not educated about.

The above are a few of the effects of social media for a laymen person, there are also many effects of using social media in the legal profession that many attorneys/ legal practitioners that are not aware of and many attorneys find themselves in hot water because of social media. This has started to be such an issue that the Commercial and Federal Litigation Section of the New York State Bar Association is updating Social Media Ethics Guidelines for Attorneys. Robert J Ambrogi who wrote an article on this issue called Social Networking in Line with ABA Ethics stated “for legal professionals, social media offer a powerful and economical set of tools for marketing, research, networking, collaboration and more. But as with any emerging media, there are uncharted pitfalls as well”.

As a lawyer you have to uphold the law and ethics of the legal profession. Further lawyers need to uphold the rules or “ethics” of using social media to avoid finding yourself in trouble with your clients or even with Judges or Magistrates because even them they are using these social networks. According to Robert Ambrogi these social media ethics for attorneys include the following:

  1. Use common sense –think carefully about the post before you publish it, as that post could be used against you in court or even at the firm you work in.
  2. Remember the rule on trial publicity – do not post material facts about your case on social media, even if you do not mention the parties’ names. Basically the moral of the story is, do not betray client’s confidences however anonymous you make it.
  3. Do not make false or misleading statements – do not oversell yourself on social media because you want more clients to come to your firm, it never ends well.
  4. Become competent in technology and social media – in my opinion and after perusing all the research on this topic, I respectfully believe that this ethic is one of the most important of them all. By being competent you are able to use social media correctly, you are able to conduct yourself properly, you are also able to inform and educate your clients on how to use and conduct yourself on social media during pending litigation. This is also another big issue which we will look at, at a later stage. You are further able to conduct your practice honestly, with integrity and ethically. “The best way to stay out of trouble with any medium is to understand how it works. If you are uneducated about technology and social media, you are more susceptible to tripping up”.

According to an article published in a legal magazine De Rebus called Beware of Social Media Pitfalls, written by Tshepo Shabangu who is an attorney and a representative of the Law Society of South Africa, an “attorney need to adapt but be cautious of the ethical considerations surrounding social media. Social media can be used to advance business but this should be done in an ethical manner”. This statement I believe is absolutely correct because nowadays attorneys easily loose their jobs, tarnish their reputation and the reputation of the firm over a post on Facebook or Twitter, I guess with the assumption that their boss or the law society or the public will not see or react to it in a negative way.

Even though the attorney posted on their personal social media account, it still has an impact on the attorney’s career, no matter how innocent they think the post may be. Since social media plays a big role and is now a part of our lives whether we like it or not, it is best that we educate ourselves as attorneys and educate others about social media, so we can all become competent in technology and social media. The world is evolving lets evolve with it.

By: Nosipho Thala – Candidate Attorney