Utilization of Social Media in the Legal Profession

INTRODUCTION

Social media use by legal professionals over the years has witnessed a rapid spike. The embrace of the 21st-century lawyer of online applications such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc., has raised an obligation to not only use these applications but to ensure that same is done in accordance with the principles of the ethics of the legal profession.

Error! Hyperlink reference not valid.It is pertinent to note that within the period in which social media applications, or apps, as they are generally referred to, such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, etc., and technologies like the devices created by Apple, Samsung, and other technology companies were launched, the impact they have occasioned on human life and more particularly, the legal profession is unprecedented. This article intends to analyze the impact of social networking sites on the law, the legal profession and dispute resolution in general

This article is pertinent in these times because the advent and proliferation of social media provide a stage where legal practitioners can advocate for the promotion of justice, fairness, equity, engage in orientation and sensitization of rights, etc., and the benefits of such technology in fostering access to justice and accessing relevant information. It is safe to say that everybody in the legal space is involved with social media in one way or the other. It may be the private practitioner who is confronted with the possibility of interacting with the opposing parties, or when in-house lawyers are forced to adapt their internal firm policies to topical issues online. The bottom line is that the players in the legal profession are in one way or another, utilizing social networking to aid their legal practice.

SOCIAL MEDIA USAGE BY LEGAL PRACTITIONERS

Several legal professionals have adopted the use of social media platforms in networking, gathering evidence, interacting with other lawyers, and engaging in public legal practice. It should be mentioned that the conventional concepts of exclusivity, confidentiality, and the rules of evidence are tested by the usage of social media in the legal profession.

Social media has become an essential part of the legal landscape. Social media is being used by lawyers to interact with their clients, advertise their law firms, and expand their businesses. Social media may be used by attorneys to increase their firm’s visibility, draw in new clients, and stay in touch with existing ones. Social media in the legal profession has become so sacrosanct that a legal practitioner or a law office that does not have an online presence is at a great disadvantage, because the profession is becoming dependent on the use of social networking platforms. It has also aided in spreading and educating the general public about the law in general or specific areas of law.

THE GUIDING PRINCIPLES OF SOCIAL MEDIA FOR LEGAL PRACTITIONERS

The International Bar Association’s Legal Practice Committee and Bar Issues Committee, have developed a set of principles to guide practitioners of the legal profession in their use of social media which are discussed under the sub-headings below:

RESPONSIBILITY

Members of the legal profession are urged to access the privacy settings on the majority of social media websites and applications, while using both their personal and professional accounts. This does not necessarily imply that the data exchanged and access will be secure, but it at least reduces the risk involved. A Client-attorney relationship may be accidentally established if members of the public rely on material released by a practitioner on a particular subject as legal advice. Therefore, it is advised that a legal professional always state clearly in what capacity the post, material, or content is being disseminated. This will minimize the possibility that such a post may be relied upon as expert or professional advice.

INDEPENDENCE

Both offline and online, legal professionals need to uphold a high level of professional independence. Legal professionals are supposed to retain their independence by not giving in to outside demands. Links to Clients, Judges, and other legal professionals should be examined before being created on social networking sites where they are visible, in order to prevent any potential professional implications.

UPHOLDING PUBLIC CONFIDENCE

The Rules of Professional Conduct for legal practitioners in Nigeria provide that lawyers are always expected to ensure that they conduct their affairs with the highest respect and decorum to the profession. This also implies that Lawyers have the responsibility of ensuring that their online presence is a representation of their offline character, which is to at all times, ensure the sanctity of the profession. The legal practitioner should also be careful of the kind of representation he portrays as it affects his character.

BENEFITS OF THE USAGE OF SOCIAL MEDIA TO THE LEGAL PRACTITIONER AND PROFESSION

  1. Lawyers can use social media to build up their law firm’s visibility and branding. Given the fact that the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners have placed an embargo on advertising for the lawyer, harnessing the subtle power of social media advertising is a huge advantage to the legal practitioner.
  2. Social media can be used by legal practitioners to attract new clients through the kind of content the legal practitioner posts or writes.
  3. The use of social media can also aid the legal practitioner in maintaining relationships with his existing clients.
  4. Social media offers the Legal Practitioner an avenue to spread ideas and connect with people.
  5. Social media offers room for the legal practitioner to meet with different breeds of lawyers thus, enabling him to build a network of like minds which can be of help to his practice.
  6. The legal practitioner can harness the power of social media in advocating for change in policies and governance. Social media is a powerful tool for the legal practitioner to lend his voice for social justice, fairness and good governance.
  7. The surge in the usage of social media networking application has also created the opportunity for the legal practitioner to be an advocate for compliance with the rules and regulation, whilst utilizing these applications. For instance, the issue of online defamation, cyberbullying, regulatory framework governing mobile applications, data protection and privacy etc., are few of the legal issues which social media has occasioned in which the legal practitioner can be an advocate of change.

The usage of social media has its challenge, some of the disadvantages include a lack of privacy and a potential perception of lack of independence, as well as the risk of defamation. Confidential information may also be unintentionally disclosed by way of analogies, tweets or stories.

CONCLUSION

The use of social media applications by legal professionals in different parts of the world in the administration of justice, has made it imperative for the Nigerian Bar Association to ensure that systems are put in place to promote the use of social media. Thus, ensuring that safeguards or controls are implemented in order to preserve the sanctity of the profession, within the bounds of ethical and professional standards.

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