Lawyers, social media escapades and more
It would seem that after many years of convincing, most lawyers are finally, at long last, fully aware of social media and are trying to use it to their benefit. Some are succeeding. Others — not so much. In fact, some are failing quite spectacularly in a rather grand — and very public — fashion.
First, there’s rapper Chris Brown’s lawyer, Mark Geragos, who made a splash on Twitter in late October following his client’s arraignment for misdemeanor assault. In response to a critical post about Brown on Twitter, which was directed at Geragos and implied that Brown should be put in jail and beat up a number of times, Geragos repeated the tweet and then referred to the original poster as a “#haterhoe.”
Perhaps that phrase is a term of art that I somehow missed during Criminal Law 101 on one of the days that I slept through class. Or, perhaps a more likely explanation is that Geragos failed to learn Social Media Lesson #1: Think before you interact. The Internet is forever and Google never forgets. Not to mention that the Library of Congress has been archiving tweets for years now. So, always remember this lesson and don’t tweet if there’s even a small chance you might regret your actions down the road.
The same rule applies to online lawyer advertising. Google doesn’t forget. So, for example, if the advertising agency your firm has hired creates a video that includes racist overtones, perhaps it’s not a good idea to post the video on YouTube. Seems like a fairly self evident proposition, but clearly Alabama personal injury law firm McCutcheon & Hamner didn’t get the memo, since an offensive ad for their firm which demeaned Asians was posted on YouTube by an advertising agency (online: http://newsfeed.time.com/2013/12/03/racist-law-firm-ad/). Although the firm later denied giving the video the green light and the video was subsequently removed from YouTube, the damage was done and the video will forever be accessible online.
Speaking of questionable advertising tactics, the recent New York train derailment brought out the worst in some New York City personal injury attorneys, a number of whom purportedly used online social media sites in creative ways designed to get around the ethics ban on directly soliciting business from victims for 30 days after an accident.
For example, shortly after the derailment, personal injury law firm Omrani & Taub published a blog post about the steps to take when suing the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Similarly, attorney Mitchell Proner immediately released a YouTube video which appears in search results for the terms “Metro-North” or “train derailment,” wherein he discusses his legal experience and at the end, his phone number appears next to the phrase “Metro-North Train Derailment Bronx, NY – Call Lawyer.” Questionable tactics, indeed.
And, last but not least, just one more example of the permanency of social media — this time from criminal defendants. The two men each stand accused of threatening to kill a judge. Police were alerted that one of the men had attempted to purchase a gun with the goal of killing a judge. After investigating the allegations, the police learned from reviewing a conversation that occurred on Facebook that the two Maryland men, Zachary Ryan Mitchell and Justin Ray Ferrell, both of whom had criminal cases pending before different judges, had each agreed to kill the judge overseeing the other man’s matter. Shortly after reading the conversation the men were arrested and were recently arraigned on charges of threatening to injure a state official.
So, like the attorneys discussed previously, these two men learned the hard way that social media is forever. So take my advice and don’t forget the Golden Rule whenever you interact online: Think before you act. Better safe than sorry.
Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney and Director of Business Development and Community Relations at MyCase, an intuitive cloud-based law practice management platform for the modern law firm. She is also a GigaOM Pro Analyst and is the author of the ABA book Cloud Computing for Lawyers, co-authors the ABA book Social Media for Lawyers: the Next Frontier, and co-authors Criminal Law in New York, a West-Thomson treatise. She is the founder of lawtechTalk.com and speaks regularly at conferences regarding the intersection of law and technology. She publishes four legal blogs and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.