Immigration Practice News

Volume 3, Issue 1

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'Ambulance Chasing' on Twitter? For immigration attorneys, "listening" to Twitter users complain about their immigration woes raises a new dilemma similar to that experienced by personal injury lawyers watching an ambulance go by: "Should I chase it?" by Melissa Chavin Twitter—in case you haven't yet experienced it—is the micro-blogging phenomenon, where users gripe, gossip, provide news updates, and promote their companies, their products, and their favorite American Idol in "tweets" of 140 characters or less. Each tweet perpetuates a constantly updated body of information that is searchable immediately on Twitter, and eventually on the rest of the Internet. Using Tweetdeck or similar soſtware, lawyers can make "columns" of tweets featuring keywords such as "immigration." These columns form streams of news about immigration; they also elicit streams of complaints, ranging from cases taking too long, to how frustrating the USCIS is, to the threat of family deportation by ICE. A lawyer could easily identify potential clients, even though those Twittering may just be venting, soliciting sympathy, or looking for amateur advice. Generally, state rules permit communication with prospective clients through Twitter by analogy to attorney solicitation through the U.S. mail or e-mail. Written advertising gives readers the time and space to decide whether to engage the advertising lawyer. Conversely, state ethics rules sometimes prohibit such "real time electronic solicitation" as online chat rooms, which are deemed too similar to cornering a vulnerable stranger in person. The more fast- moving a Twitter exchange, the more it approaches "real time electronic solicitation." It is safe to say, then, that in a rapid-fire exchange of Tweeting, imposing your attorney services on any individual who hasn't directly asked for your help, crosses the line in terms of appropriate and ethical conduct. Here are two main techniques that one can use to communicate with a stranger on Twitter; both have their advantages and both can be used inappropriately: 1—Following. This sends a written advertisement about you, to the extent www.aila.org 5 that the user will receive a notice via email that you have "followed" them, and that notice will contain whatever you have put in your Twitter profile. A profile that brags "100% approval rate immigration lawyer" misleads, giving the impression that past results will predict future results. Keep your Twitter profile in compliance with other attorney advertising rules. A simple "follow" sends a message that you are out there, and lets Twitterers with immigration concerns know that their comments are being read by interested strangers, even the USCIS itself. The individual may "follow you back," which you could interpret as an invitation to "direct mail" them, using Twitter's personal and private messaging function (albeit very brief messages with the 140 character limitation). All this said, if someone seems traumatized by a development in their case, respect their vulnerability and allow some time, even to attempt to "follow" them. 2—@ [Name] Replies. Twitter's "reply" function creates a public response directed to a specific Tweet. While you may be tempted to rush to the aid of a Twitterer by asking her to contact you for legal advice, your advice may be regarded as aggressive self-promotion by other users who happen to see the response. They may "block" or "unfollow" you for violating Twitter etiquette. You may also be accused of breaking the rule against direct solicitation via "real time electronic" media, for pressuring her to engage your services in response to finding out that she needs legal help. If you decide to hit "reply" on Twitter, offer general legal information or gently suggest that the user find a competent immigration attorney without naming yourself. Melissa Chavin is an attorney and the sole practitioner at Chavin Immigration Law Office in Northbrook, IL.

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