A lawyer can participate in these forums but also disavow any "reasonable expectation" by expressly using cautionary language and disclaimers in an answer. Keep your answers generic, avoid addressing highly specific facts, and expressly state that your answer should not be considered legal advice.
4. DO NOT SOLICIT.
Ethical rules prohibit lawyers from soliciting potential clients for pecuniary gain. Fear of solicitation keeps lawyers off of Twitter, Facebook and other social networks. Such fear is unfounded.
No question, a lawyer could solicit through any of these media but the lawyer would have to be trying very hard to do so. For it to be a solicitation, it has to be targeted at a specific individual and intended to be perceived as an offer to provide legal services. Merely engaging with the public in an online forum of any kind is not solicitation.
5. STEER CLEAR OF UNAUTHORIZED PRACTICE.
In my opinion, the current rules against unauthorized and multijurisdictional practice are archaic and senseless in today's highly connected world. But they remain the rules. If you are admitted only in one state, you cannot give legal advice in another state.
To my knowledge, there has never been an ethics complaint against a lawyer for answering questions online in a Q&A forum or for participating in a discussion on Twitter or elsewhere online.
Even so, lawyers are well advised to refrain from giving fact-specific advice online and to include disclaimers in any answers they provide to consumer questions. There is a big difference between educating about law and advising about law.
6. UNDERSTAND THE RULES ON RECOMMENDATIONS.
ABA Model Rule 7.2 says, "A lawyer shall not give anything of value to a person for recommending the lawyer's services." Does this mean you cannot provide an endorsement of a colleague on sites such as LinkedIn or Avvo? Absolutely not, provided nothing of value is exchanged. But can you promise to provide an endorsement if the other attorney promises to endorse you in return? That quid pro quo could be seen as an exchange of value.
The ABA 20/20 Commission provided a very different example. One law firm distributed free T-shirts emblazoned with its name. It then offered a chance to win a prize to anyone who posted a photo on Facebook wearing the firm's shirt. "The firm arguably gave people something 'of value' (the shirt and the opportunity to win a prize) for 'recommending the lawyer's services' and thus might be viewed as running afoul of the existing version of Rule 7.2," the commission wrote.
7. REMEMBER THE RULE ON TRIAL PUBLICITY.
ABA Model Rule 3.6 limits what a lawyer can say about his or her own cases. The rule says that you cannot say anything that "will have a substantial likelihood of materially prejudicing an adjudicative proceeding in the matter."
Consider Florida lawyer Mark O'Mara, who recently launched a social media campaign on behalf of his client George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer accused of killing teenager Trayvon Martin. O'Mara's efforts included a blog, Twitter account and Facebook page was that not meant to somehow "prejudice" the matter? This is a very gray area, but one lawyers should be mindful of when they blog or tweet about their cases and another good reason not to blog about your own cases in the first place.