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Why Relying on Social Media is Tempting (and Dangerous) for Paralegals

Social media can be a wonderful tool to connect, even professionally. But it’s a bit alarming to see the extent to which paralegals are turning to it for purposes that are simply not appropriate for a public, unsecured, and uncontrollable sharing platform. More specifically, legal professionals are using social media to create work related discussion threads, information/document exchange, and even homework assistance.  

There's been a massive influx of ethics opinions and rule changes across the country in recent years warning legal practitioners to the potentially significant ethical pitfalls of using social media for professional purposes. New ethics rules aside, here are just a few of the reasons that social media might not be the ideal platform to seek professional support.

 

If you shouldn’t say it in person, you shouldn’t say it online.

It’s a fact that humans, by nature, take their guard down when online. We say things online we might not say in person. We interact in ways online differently than how we might in real life. The other day, I ran across several instances of paralegal students asking for help completing their homework assignments. One was even asking for help on her take-home exam! Would that individual lean over to her classmate in the middle of a final exam and ask the student next to him/her for help with a certain question? 

In other examples, I’ve seen paralegals asking for help drafting a certain type of legal document. One in particular that I saw recently had 43 replies over two days many of which had PDF documents and/or screen shots of forms attached to the reply. Ask yourself…confidentiality concerns aside (a blog for another day) do you think your client would be okay if he/she knew you were seeking answers to their legal matters on Facebook? Potentially more problematic…would your supervising attorney be okay if he/she knew you were posting law firm “forms” all over social media? 

 

If you want to maintain control of your content, don’t socially share it!

Back in the 1990’s the motto pertaining to e-mail used to be “think before you click send.”  The message being that once you sent an e-mail, you can’t take it back. It’s out there and nothing could stop it from being received once the button was clicked. While some social media sites do allow a “delete” option, that means nothing if it’s been shared, retweeted, etc. Look no further than certain politicians who honestly believed that once they deleted a certain post, that they had solved their problematic content share. Wrong!

 

Don’t bring the “ease of posting” mentality into the office.

Technology has changed everything about our lives and interactions. We don’t even need money to pay for a cup of coffee our smart phone apps can handle it all for us. Similar apps allow us to post on any social media site in a click of a button. We live in an era where we post about anything and everything (even it if might be the couple next to you at dinner on a Saturday night sharing their meal with their Facebook world). Don’t take that ease of posting mentality into the law office as it can, and often will, lead to a post that’s not appropriate for social sharing. 

 

Is it really possible to have private discussions on something called social media?

Study the recent ethics opinions or e-Discovery case law that has come out in recent years.  Whether it’s “hostile friending,” “Facebook firings,” “ex parte communications,” etc., the reality is that almost everything we do online can be monitored and in some cases become discoverable in litigation depending on the circumstances. In fact, there have been several instances where courts have held no reasonable expectation of privacy social media due, in large part, to the fact that is called SOCIAL MEDIA. That’s not to say that such rulings are the “law of the land” but simply to demonstrate that we must recall what these platforms really are. To reiterate point number one above, if you wouldn’t bad mouth your employer in person, why would you possibly think it’s appropriate (or will remain private) to do it online? 

 

Following threads in the cavernous word of social media is difficult, if not impossible. 

Ever notice that you see something on social media then when you return, sometimes even minutes later, you can’t find what you were just reading? Have you ever posted a request for help and received no response? The thing with social media is that if your thread doesn’t “catch” on in the first few moments of being posted, it will simply vanish in the world of your timeline. It’s virtually impossible to keep the discussion thread alive and at some point, often in the infancy of your support thread, it will inevitably fizzle out. 

 


Over the years of following hundreds of paralegal pages/groups, I often found myself wishing that if all the professional discussions I might be interested in were located in one central forum, organized by topic, that it would be much more effective in communicating with colleagues and actually collaborating together.  The reality is if you are seeking professional support online, it’s highly unlikely that a Facebook or LinkedIn Group or a Tweet is going to get you what you seek. With the above concerns along with the ever changing ethical rules pertaining to technology, it makes it all the more important to take these conversations off social media to a more appropriate venue.   

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