When is Friending Too Friendly?
August 15, 2018
I hear more and more about attorneys connecting with their clients on social media. The reasoning? There is a greater connection with your clients. It shows you care and that the client isn’t simply a file number. Perhaps the thinking is that social media is an effective way to get your name out, connect with many different people, and solidify your brand. From a marketing perspective, it may make sense.
It is not unethical to connect with a client on social media through Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram and the like. There is no rule that says you can’t, but is it a good idea? Here are some reasons to think before you connect:
- Social media tends to be informal. Consider whether this is the kind of relationship you want with your clients.
- The informality associated with some kinds of social media may encourage the client to communicate with you outside of normal business hours.
- Because of the informality, clients may be tempted to discuss their case with you online. Consider attorney-client privilege waiver issues and confidentiality problems if the client overshares.
- Think about how you usually use social media. Is it primarily personal or for business? Does sharing what you ate for dinner really promote your brand? Consider establishing a separate Facebook page for firm news, professional activities and accolades. Or connect with clients only through professional sites like LinkedIn.
- Consider the kind of information shared and what the client may learn about you. Are your personal Facebook posts the kind of information you want your clients to see, or is it information that really should be reserved for friends and family?
- Your clients may have religious or political beliefs that are vastly different from your own. They may not get your sense of humor, or they may be easily offended. Your posts may inadvertently alienate some clients.
- Keep in mind that clients would also see what other friends or family will post about you, if tagged. Does your mom post embarrassing pictures of you from middle school? Or what if a friend posted a less than dignified video of you playing a game of charades at a party? While this silliness won’t sink a career, it may not be the professional image that you want to project.
Aside from potential boundary issues, there is a real concern that this informal connection may implicitly encourage communication about the client’s case if you have connected with a client during the representation. You already have an affirmative obligation to advise certain litigation clients about the dangers or risks of posting on social media and how those posts may affect their case. See 2014 FEO 5.
In my view, if you don’t already have an existing friendship with a client, it is prudent to keep your professional and personal life separate, especially if you are currently representing a client in litigation. Develop your brand and your connections through a law firm Facebook page or a professional platform such as LinkedIn. You may be the life of the party, but unless you would want your clients at that party, think twice before inviting them in.