Immigration Practice News

Volume 3, Issue 1

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Social Media Poses New Ethical Minefield T by Ari Sauer he Internet has taken over. Google is quickly replacing the Yellow Pages as a way to search for a business. Between web pages, blogs, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter and numerous other social media sites, there is no shortage of ways for a company to get the word out about their services. But where does that leave attorneys? With so much pressure to have an online presence, and with most states still relying on rules of professional responsibility that were written before the popular use of the fax machine, it is easy for attorneys to forget their responsibility to adhere to their state's rules when using social media. Here are some pointers to keep in mind to help you avoid ethical pitfalls when using social media. While this is not a comprehensive list, it will help to get you in the right frame of mind as you turn to the Internet. Read your state's rules of professional responsibility. The only way to safely get through the ethical minefield is to know where the mines are. If you are licensed or practicing in more than one state, make sure you know the rules of all relevant states. Websites or communications on behalf of the firm should adhere to the rules of all jurisdictions in which its attorneys practice. Remember that anything you post on the Internet as an attorney is potentially subject to the rules. Most states take a broad view of what is an advertisement, communication, or solicitation under the rules. This might include an e-mail, a website, a blog, a Facebook post, a tweet, etc. Treat all online communications with non- lawyers as being subject to the rules. In law school they taught us that we should be careful about giving legal advice to a stranger at a cocktail party because we could be creating an implied attorney-client relationship, a right to confidentiality, a possible conflict of interest, or even a liability for malpractice. The same is true for all online communications. Be very careful not to violate a client or potential client's right to confidentiality. In other lines of work people can tweet about the funny thing their client said or did. We cannot. The Internet knows no jurisdictional boundaries. As immigration lawyers, we are especially aware of the dangers of multijurisdictional practices. You should always be careful not to provide legal advice on state law for a state in which you are not licensed. Remember, other users can be anywhere in the world. Also, you should clearly indicate where you are licensed and practicing. Create a written disclaimer and use it liberally. Many of the issues raised here can be resolved by developing a clear written disclaimer statement and making sure you include it with all communications. But you must first familiarize yourself with the rules in order to know what should be included in the disclaimer and what issues cannot be resolved with the use of a disclaimer. Also, be extra careful when using sites such as Twitter, which do not allow enough room to post a disclaimer. And don't forget: I am not an expert in professional responsibility issues. This information is for educational purposes only and should not be relied upon as legal advice. Readers are advised to consult with an attorney who is experienced in the area of professional responsibility before relying on the information contained in this article. I am not your attorney unless you have a signed retainer agreement with me. Ari J. Sauer is an attorney with Siskind Susser in Memphis, TN. He represents corporate clients in all areas of U.S. business immigration law. AILA'S ETHICS & PRACTICE MANAGEMENT COMMITTEE offers 24/7 assistance to members through the Practice and Professionalism Center. You can find information to help you develop your practice, improve firm management, identify and address ethics issues, or find pro bono opportunities. For example, the Practice Management portal includes resources for managing workflow, obtaining new clients, improving client service, and much more. The center reflects our goals as practitioners: to provide competent, quality services to our clients; to act ethically with respect to our clients and the tribunal; and to do well while doing good. 2

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