If I told you that it was easy to get clients through social networking you’d be excited. But what if I told you that it was so easy, you could form lawyer-client relationships without even realizing it? Not so appealing now, huh? The reality is that it’s dangerously easy to establish L/C relationships through our interaction in social networking and the prudent attorney needs to be aware of this pitfall.
Consider the “law school” definition of when a L/C relationship is created: If a person seeks advice, and you give advice, in circumstances where a reasonable person would rely upon that advice, a L/C relationship could be created. There’s that reasonable person again– you seem him all over the ethics rules….the reasonable man gets around more than Tiger Woods! OH!Bad jokes aside, think about that definition and consider these two situations that may (or may not have) happened to me– of course, I’ll never admit whether they actually occurred for fear of being smacked upside the head with the ethics stick…In each of these cases we have a person who sought advice, I gave advice and there was a situation where it was reasonable for them to rely on that advice. In both instances you could say, “Congratulations Mr. Teicher, you’ve got a brand new baby client!”
1- I provided a long, detailed answer to a question on LinkedIn in a not-so-unusual attempt at self-promotion. After I posted the answer, the questioner sent me a follow up note to discuss things and I responded privately…
2- An high school friend asked me a “quick legal question” on Facebook. They didn’t quite understand my answer so I had a back-and-forth with them until they got it….
It’s up to you to watch what you say and control how you say it. Avoid creating L/C relationships in SN by responding to online advice-seekers the same way you would if they were standing right in front of you–try to be moderately helpful by talking about their issue vaguely and then artfully avoid giving any actual “advice.” Provide generic-style information that will intrigue the person and encourage them to engage you formally. Just to be safe, it’s probably a good idea to throw in a disclaimer-style statement that tells them that they shouldn’t rely on what you’re saying.
Don’t smirk like that– you know exactly what I mean– you’ve been dealing with this in the face-to-face world for your entire career. That’s the trick– talk to a SN advice seeker the same way you’d talk to them if you met them in person.