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.”
Gonzalez is not the only attorney who has issues with The Bar’s new social media rules, considered the most stringent in the country by many law firms.
The rules are part of The Bar’s latest overhaul of attorney advertising rules, which were approved by the Florida Supreme Court in May. While rules for billboards, television and radio commercials and publications have garnered the most attention, rules about how attorneys can use Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are now coming to light — and generating controversy among lawyers.
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.
“We encourage our clients to use social media. We think it’s a useful component of any public relations firm,” said Jennifer Clarin of Boardroom Communications, which handles public relations for several South Florida law firms. “But because of the restrictions The Florida Bar has placed on social media, clients now have to rethink their social media strategy. This is such a broad stroke they placed over social networking.”
Several lawyers, including Gonzalez, have voiced their frustration about the LinkedIn rule on a special LinkedIn group for Florida lawyers.
Gonzalez complains lawyers have no control over who endorses them on LinkedIn since the endorsements are done without their solicitation or knowledge. LinkedIn is the preferred form of social media for him and many other lawyers.
“I’m old school, and I don’t like advertising,” he said. “LinkedIn is a networking thing between professionals. It’s a good idea because it’s a word-of-mouth thing.”
Gonzalez was particularly proud that an opposing lawyer in a case won by Gonzalez endorsed him on LinkedIn.
While law firms and lawyers have found a way to change their LinkedIn settings to block endorsements, Gonzalez said he has no intention of doing so.
“I’m not changing a damn thing,” he said. “I want The Bar to come after me. I’m 61 years old, and I’m not going to tolerate garbage like that.”
Expertise V. Skills
The Bar also forbids attorneys from holding themselves out as experts on LinkedIn.
Kristin Vasilj, digital communications manager for Holland & Knight, said the New York State Bar Association and The Florida Bar are the only ones in the country to ban the word “expertise” on attorneys’ LinkedIn accounts. She has asked LinkedIn to consider changing the word expertise to skills to comply with Florida Bar rules.
“We counsel our lawyers to keep looking at their LinkedIn profiles to make sure no one has added endorsements,” she said.
Law firms also are annoyed about the new Twitter rule. Some, like Greenberg Traurig, are interpreting the rule narrowly and including both names of lawyers and office locations in their tweets.
Holland & Knight has taken the position that informational tweets or posts about community events do not constitute advertising and the firm is not listing office locations.
A concern for law firms is that with just 140 characters per tweet, locations will eat up a good part of a tweet.
Holland & Knight does not allow individual attorneys to tweet under its official handle, and Vasilj monitors all tweets from the law firm.
“With regard to Twitter, all of the firms are reviewing and digesting the rules,” she said. “I say this with all respect to The Florida Bar, but it’s not the clearest of rules.”
Elizabeth Tarbert, ethics counsel for The Florida Bar, said it’s important for lawyers’ tweets to state their locations because “if you’re advertising your services, you have to say where you are. If you’re a client, you need to know where the lawyer is located, are they near a courthouse, that sort of thing. If you list your office in Jacksonville, that’s essential information about you.”
Vasilj belongs to a national group of media and digital managers at law firms, and the group has had several discussions about the Florida social media rules.
Both Holland & Knight and Berger Singerman are in the process of training attorneys on new social media rules.
“We’re having a training for all attorneys on Oct. 10 because it’s so timely,” said Lori Rabinowitz, director of marketing and recruitment for Berger Singerman. “All of our offices will be teleconferenced in.”
Berger Singerman is not overly concerned about the Twitter rule because its lawyers rarely tweet, Rabinowitz said. The firm is advising its lawyers to change their LinkedIn settings to block outside endorsements and expertise listings, she said.
Unlike others, Rabinowitz indicated she has no problem with The Bar’s new LinkedIn rule.
“I heard a lot of attorneys are being endorsed as commercial litigators when they are really real estate attorneys,” she said. “We do find LinkedIn to be a very valuable tool.”
Kathy Bible, advertising counsel for The Florida Bar, said it’s not investigating any lawyers for potential Twitter violations. However, The Bar is involved in two disciplinary investigations regarding LinkedIn. She could not provide details because the investigations are ongoing.
Bible has privately talked to some lawyers about inappropriate Facebook photos.
“One lawyer had pictures of his staff with skirts too short,” she said. “He kindly removed them when we asked.”
Clearwater solo attorney Carin Constantine said she faced a Bar disciplinary complaint this summer for her Facebook page. She said another attorney reported her for posting disparaging comments about her ex-boyfriend, another attorney. She said she hired an attorney to defend her at the grievance level and the case was dropped.
“This is the first grievance I’ve had in my life,” she said. “They copied my Facebook page, my Twitter, my blog and my Google Plus account.”
Constantine said she has since dropped her Twitter account and changed the privacy settings on her Facebook page so only friends can see it.
“The Florida Bar can’t take away my right to have a personal Facebook page,” she said.