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William B. Eadie Esq. | Mar 5, 2014

Online Reputation: Technology v. Ethics?

In September of 2011, I posted a blog discussing some changes released by the American Bar Association Commission on Ethics 20-20 in a proposal regarding the way attorneys communicate with the public through new technologies (ABA Commission Releases Proposed Attorney Marketing Rules). I asked the question concerning whether new technologies require new guidelines for dealing with the public.

But how do attorney ethical guidelines in marketing apply to your efforts to build and maintain a good online presence? In my recent Trial article, Protect and Enhance Your Online Reputation (pdf), I suggest that there are some basic steps attorneys can take now to help establish and maintain a positive online reputation, specifically:

  1. Get the lay of the land-know what shows up in search results when you search for yourself and your firm.
  2. Implement a Google Alert to track online comments moving forward.
  3. Build informed advocates.
  4. Develop a plan to respond to both disparaging and encouraging comments.
  5. Build your own content.
  6. Create a social media/Internet use policy for your firm.
  7. Talk to other lawyers.

How do-or how should-attorney ethical guidelines interact with these goals? For example, is an attorney's reputation-manager (whether internal or an outside firm) posting a comment in response to negative feedback advertising?

What about clients? Do attorneys need to educate clients about the risks of posting disparaging comments, such as defamation or disclosing confidential information, such as a settlement amount? When does informing a client become trying to keep a client from making negative comments they have every right to make? Are there risks to asking clients to make positive comments? While I tend to think fears about clients being online are overblown, these are important questions to answer before there's a problem.

Please share your thoughts and experiences below, whether you're an attorney, a former client of an attorney, or just have a story to share. You can also leave feedback on our law firm Facebook page.


Article: Protect and Enhance Your Online Reputation (pdf)

ABA Commission on Ethics 20-20 Technology and Advertising Initial Proposal 6-29-2011.pdf

ABA Commission on Ethics 20-20 Technology and Client Development 9-19-2011.pdf