Some guy created a website that allows other people to click some button that says he’s a pretty cool guy and does great at his job. People the guy doesn’t know click on the button to say how great he is at his job. He’s got nothing to do with it, but he knows that the people clicking on his button don’t know him and wouldn’t have a clue whether he was any good or not.
The guy doesn’t care a whole lot about whether people click on his button or not, but doesn’t have a problem with it either. Who gets upset about people they don’t know saying unwarranted nice things about them? But other people, the ones who regulate what he does for a living, have a rule that says two things: first, that you can’t bullshit people, and second, that you can’t claim to be something you’re not, like an “expert.” The problem with the buttons is that they suggest the guy is an expert.
This is a fictionalization of the issue facing Orlando Gonzalez, an Orlando lawyer, on LinkedIn. As discussed in Daily Business Review, he was not moved.
Orlando attorney Luis Gonzalez has no intention of following The Florida Bar’s new social media rules, particularly those relating to LinkedIn.
“Let’s get a little better priorities,” said Gonzalez, a solo attorney who has been practicing for 36 years. “There’s a lot of unlawful practice of law going on out there. I get these cases referred when it’s too late. The Bar should be more involved in that and forget about this absurdity.”
What makes Gonzalez a worthy study is that he at least realizes there are rules and has made a deliberate decision to ignore them. Many don’t get nearly that far, not considering the intersection of ethical rules with the internet at all. In the middle are those who have some vague notion that rules exist, but with a wave of their arm, dismiss them as being archaic. Somehow, this means they no longer have to adhere to the rules, which means that knowing them, considering them, isn’t worth their time. They just do as they please, because the rules are only there to oppress them and they won’t be oppressed.
To recap, some tech entrepreneur puts a button on a website that lots of people use that allows people, whether the person profiled or other people, to publicly proclaim an expertise. And because this tech entrepreneur did so, professional rules disappear. The internet trumps all.
At the Puddle, which is important in this post because it’s where many young, tech-savvy, desperate lawyers who prefer small words and even smaller concepts get their practical information, the local ethics maven, Megan Zavieh, contends that ethics rules shouldn’t try to keep pace with technology.
Ethics regulators have been faced with a difficult task to keep the rules and guidance available to attorneys current in light of massive changes to technology and social media platforms…. Rule changes are also useful when they address technology that is going to last for the long term. The only efforts that seem thus far to have been relatively wasted ones are those intended to regulate a specific function of an individual platform. Those wasted efforts go to prove that the useful ones are those that do not attempt to keep up with technology, but rather those that carefully and thoughtfully regulate for the long term.
Her point, which is sound, is that regulators can’t keep pace with the internet, as websites are created that include things that violate rules to some extent, then change or disappear, or add worse things. Ethics regulators can neither keep pace with the speed of the internet, or have the capacity to go through every lawyer’s website, blog, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, and whatever comes next, accounts.
The problem with her point is that far too few lawyers care about what ethics regulators have to say generically (don’t deceive, for example) and plow ahead, secure in the knowledge that the chance of being nabbed, unless somebody specifically rats you out, is slightly less than zero. Only when an opinion is issued that expressly states that lawyers can’t engage in a particular act does anyone take notice. But that’s a bit of a joke as well.
The Bar defends the social media rules, saying lawyers must comply with ethical guidelines whether their advertising is on Facebook, billboards or TV. The guidelines warn attorneys to refrain from testimonials, holding themselves out as experts and posting inappropriate and unprofessional photos or videos on Facebook.
Lawyers and law firms are expressing frustration with the new social media restrictions, saying they are difficult to interpret and overly stringent. Of particular concern are rules requiring law firms to state an office location on each tweet and barring lawyers from allowing third-party endorsements or listing their expertise on LinkedIn.
This explanation is fairly disingenuous. It assumes that every twit is advertising, and thus falls within the regulations for advertising. On the other hand, the lawyers who take issue with it are, indeed, advertising. Even though it’s largely unadulterated nonsense, there are plenty of lawyers who pay someone in Bangalore to twit incessantly about how great these lawyers are, and if you need a lawyer, call… While it may not get them any business, it’s totally disgraceful and embarrassing. Not that they care.
There is a solution, although it will prove to be particularly unsatisfying to both sides of this drama. As ethics regulators can’t do their job, both in terms of crafting rules for a race they are doomed to perpetually lose and in making any lawyer comply with the rules, they would do better to focus on a more narrow niche of the ethical problems of deception, deal with a handful of lawyers violating the rules, and send a message that there is a chance, even if not much of one, that lawyers will be disciplined.
The other side, the lawyers who feel strongly that the internet is an ethics free zone where they are entitled to hawk their wares in whatever way they can, need to be held accountable for the disrepute they bring on the one percent, and the promoters of ethical violations giving accredited CLE presentations that teach lawyers that the rules don’t apply to them need to be shut down.
So hire me, EthicalShutdownLawyer.com, because I have 37 expert clicks on LinkedIn, which means it must be true. Tasteful, right?