Lawyers, paralegals and their
staff are using websites and Internet communication that can impact individual
and firm reputation and professional conduct. These activities span both work
hours and personal time, blurring lines that might have been clearer in the
past. These guidelines include a number of topics that may or may not apply in
your practice. We have attempted to highlight sections that may be more
appropriate for a particular firm size. Relevant references to the Rules of Professional Conduct (Lawyers’ Rules) and the Paralegal Rules of Conduct (Paralegal
Rules) have also been noted. Please note that this information is not a
substitute for the member’s own research, analysis and judgment. The Law
Society of Upper Canada does not provide substantive legal advice or opinions.
[FIRM NAME] ONLINE ACTIVITY AND SOCIAL MEDIA POLICY
EXPECTATION OF ONLINE ACTIVITY
[Firm name] understands that a
great deal of time is spent online, both during work and in your private time.
Whether you are sending e-mail to clients or colleagues, or updating your
social network status on a social networking or life-streaming website such as
Facebook or Twitter, you may find that the distinction between work and personal
blurs. [We / I] understand that this activity can enhance business development
and personal relationships, and you are encouraged to participate in online activities.
These guidelines are intended to help you be aware of potential areas where,
during work or personal time, your disclosure of certain information can have a
negative impact on [Firm name].
Lawyers’ Rules: Commentary to Rule 3.3-1, Confidential
Rules: Rules 3.03(1) and
These guidelines affect every
lawyer, paralegal, staff member, and contractor of [Firm name]. The primary
function of these guidelines is to give you parameters in which you may or may
not use information about the firm. These include explicit use of or reference
to the firm name, the firm’s or individual’s contact information, and our
website or e-mail addresses. It also includes content created at work, like
images from a firm or client event, or documents dealing with clients or our
operations. It includes anything created using firm resources, including
computers and smart phones. Specific examples include
- client contact information, even if published
elsewhere, or information disclosing the firm’s current or former
representation of client
- documents, images, and other information related
to client representation
- documents, images, and other information related
to firm operations, particularly those that clients otherwise hire the firm to
prepare or advise upon
While this policy most obviously
applies to online websites, like Facebook or personal websites and blogs, it
also applies to e-mail. When you share information on the Internet, it is often
archived by search engines. Similarly, an e-mail sent to a friend or to a
discussion list may be forwarded beyond your control, or archived so that the
information is broadly accessible beyond those to whom you sent it.
[Firm name] encourages you to use
professional and personal online communication but to be aware that your online
activity may blur the line between those two areas. If you have questions about
or suggestions to improve these guidelines, let [me / Firm HR contact] know.
Lawyers’ Rules: Commentary to Rule 6.1-1, Direct
Rules: Rule 8.01 (4), (5),
and (6), Supervisory Responsibility and Delegation
You are personally responsible
for any online activity that can be connected to the firm, including sharing of
client or other firm information, or creating the impression that you are
acting on behalf of the firm. This includes communications that constitute
legal advice or could create a lawyer-client or a paralegal-client
relationship. For example, if you identify the firm as your place of employment
on a social networking website, be sure that any information you post on the
site, especially in response to the comments or messages of others, does not
imply that you are providing legal advice. Where there is a legitimate business
reason to share information, be sure to get firm and client permission before
using it in an online communication that may become publicly accessible. Keep
in mind that we already have policies relating to [insert appropriate policies:
acceptable Internet use, acceptable computer use, acceptable e-mail use] that
apply to specific firm technologies.
Lawyers’ Rules: Commentary to Rule 5.6-1, Encouraging
Respect for the Administration of Justice, on broad obligations not restricted
to professional activities; Rule 2.1-1, Integrity; and Section 7.2, Responsibility
to Lawyers and Others
Rules: Rule 2.01(1)-(3),
Integrity and Civility, and Rules 6.01(1) and (2), Encouraging Respect for the
Administration of Justice
Your personal reputation and that
of the firm can be negatively impacted by poorly considered online
communications. A rashly worded or disrespectful comment will have a long life
on the Internet and lead to unforeseen negative consequences. Online websites
frequently have participants whose primary goal is to provoke, commonly known
as trolls, seeking to bait others into negative interactions. While some online
resources, like Twitter and other life-streaming sites, expect rapid responses
and updates, temper this expectation so as not to be hasty in distributing
information you would not otherwise share. Keep in mind that it is sometimes
difficult to communicate the right tone online or in an e-mail message. An
e-mail conversation can escalate into insult and hostility, commonly called
flaming, if you hit the wrong tone. If you are participating in a discussion,
think carefully about how you use humour or other writing techniques. This
extends beyond communication to behaviour. Understand the terms of service for
the online sites you are using and abide by them. Poor online behaviour can
have as much negative impact as poor communications. Similarly, be sure that
you have a basic understanding of “Netiquette”, where using UPPER CASE in an
e-mail equates to yelling.
PROTECT OUR CLIENTS
Lawyers’ Rules: Section 3.3, Confidentiality, and Section
3.4, Conflicts of Interest
Rules: Rule 3.03,
Confidentiality, and Rule 3.04, Conflicts of Interest
Part III, Client Identification and Verification
When you are in an online
environment, you cannot always know how far your communications or actions will
extend. An e-mail you send may be forwarded to others. A posting to your
LinkedIn network about client work may reach out beyond your own network, depending
upon the settings your connections have made to their own accounts. You cannot
assume that anything posted in a secure or private online network site will
You are encouraged to use online
tools to generate new business and seek out client relationships. While doing
so, you should not provide legal advice or invite sharing of confidential information
that results in an individual reasonably concluding that you have agreed to
render legal services on the individual’s behalf.
If you determine that you wish to
take on an individual or organization with whom you connected online as a
client, be sure to run a conflicts check on the specific individual or
organization, comply with all applicable identification and/or verification
rules, and follow all other normal office procedures for new clients.
If you are not licensed to
practice law or provide legal services in your online contact’s jurisdiction,
be aware that your online activity may constitute the unauthorized practice of
law or provision of legal services.
If you are communicating online,
identify yourself clearly. You should not post anonymously or using pseudonyms.
You would not be the first person to have a true identity discovered after
participating in an online, anonymous discussion and divulged to a court. If it
is appropriate and you have the firm’s permission, use links to the firm’s
website or to your e-mail account at the firm.
Lawyers’ Rules: Commentary to Rule 4.2-1, Marketing of
Professional Services, for examples of marketing that may contravene the Rules
Rules: Rule 8.03, Marketing of Legal Services
In some situations, your online
communications and activities may be considered marketing. This may be helpful
in generating new business. However, be careful to comply with professional
rules. Avoid being misleading, confusing, or deceiving. Use verifiable,
accurate, and demonstrably true information in any situation where you market
your or the firm’s services. Remember that the marketing must also be in the
best interests of the public and consistent with a high standard of
When you participate in an online
site, whether commenting on a blog or posting your status, consider how you can
create a permanent record of that activity. Whether it means printing off or
making an electronic copy of a blog posting, or exporting your online status
comments, you should be prepared to show what your online activities were where
they relate to the firm. This may be particularly important if you have
unintentionally created a client relationship and it raises a conflict, or the
user has relied on the information you posted.
The firm has an online presence
in a number of social networking sites, including [Canadian Lawyers, Legal
OnRamp, Lexpert, LinkedIn, etc.]. If you would like to link to, “friend”, or
otherwise connect to the firm’s presence from your personal account on those
sites, feel free to do so. When your own online networking is personal, rather
than related to the firm, do not feel obligated to link your profile to that of
the firm. However, be aware that [we/I] may review any public information you
make available on your personal profile or site.
If you use online communication
and are notified or notice that you have made an error, fix it promptly.
[We / I] reserve[s] the right to
take disciplinary action against anyone who engages in online activity that
violates the law or professional rules, or otherwise reflects poorly upon or
damages either the firm or its clients.
The following are some examples
when these guidelines might apply.
- Beth, a partner at a firm, participates in an
e-mail discussion list hosted by a business professional roundtable, where she
can send and receive messages on a wide variety of business topics and interact
with current and potential clients.
- Arthur, an associate at a firm, maintains a
personal blog that he started as a law student. He has written about law
school, classes, his articling experience, and now occasionally comments on his
- Greg, a paralegal, regularly reads the Empowered
Paralegal blog and occasionally posts comments on the site.
- Susan, a litigation support specialist, has a
Twitter account that she uses to update her friends and colleagues on her
whereabouts, particularly if she’s working long hours on a case.
The following are some examples
where these guidelines do not apply.
- Mark, Nadine, and Lisa have “friended” each
other on Facebook and discuss movies and occasionally collaborate in a game of
Firmtown. Their profiles identify [Firm name] as their employer but there is no
other mention of work.
- Erik has a Twitter account where he provides to
his followers updates on the status of his cactus throughout the day.