The Internet is Forever, So Behave Accordingly
My fellow lawyers: let's talk.
Now let me just say at the outset that I am absolutely thrilled to see all of you using technology, whether it's social media, video conferencing, or cloud computing. For more than a decade now I've been encouraging lawyers to embrace internet-based tools and educate themselves about the possibilities and many benefits of interacting, engaging, and conducting business online.
As you can imagine, it’s been a long, and sometimes frustrating journey. Before the pandemic hit, the legal profession was finally beginning to use emerging technologies, but adoption was occurring at a slow, but steady pace. And then, COVID-19 arrived, and everything changed.
One of the many effects of COVID-19 was that the mandatory quarantines required lawyers to rapidly shift to remote work. As a result lawyers began to use technology at rates never before seen. Lawyers implemented cloud-based software in order to get work done remotely. Similarly, methods of communication shifted rapidly because of social distancing requirements. Lawyers began to interact on social media more than ever before, and video conferencing became the norm.
These rapid changes were a welcome departure from the slow and measured rates of technology adoption that preceded them. However with that rapid technology usage came some very notable bumps in the road. It is these hiccups that I’d like to address in today’s column.
First and foremost I beseech you, my fellow lawyers, to understand that the internet is forever. Let me repeat that: the internet is forever.
Now I know I've told you this before. I’ve repeatedly shared this proposition with you in many different columns, and I know other legal technology professionals have done the same. But based on the barrage of news headlines about the many online missteps by lawyers that have occurred since the onset of the pandemic, I'm not sure the message has gotten through.
So let me be clear: when you are using internet-based technology such as social media or video conferencing software to interact with others please understand that anything you do and say can be recorded and shared across the internet for everyone to see. Screenshots can be taken. Video conference calls can be recorded. Everything you do and say online can be disseminated rapidly across social media, and once this happens there's no going back.
Things that you say and do online can come back to haunt you. You may experience public humiliation. Your actions could result in disciplinary action. You might even face criminal prosecution.
Lawyers have encountered all of these consequences in recent months. Attorneys involved in the riots at the Capital who shared their participation online now face criminal indictments. Lawyers who engaged in unprofessional conduct during Zoom meetings have had their actions shared far and wide. Lawyers who have, in the heat of the moment, posted threats or other inappropriate comments have placed their licenses to practice law at risk.
If only all of these lawyers had paused for mere seconds and thought about their actions prior to engaging in them, much of this could've been avoided.
So, my fellow lawyers, here are a few examples of what not to do, ripped from the headlines. If you're about to riot on the Capital or engage in other potentially criminal conduct, perhaps think before you engage in those actions, and if you decide to go move forward, at the very least avoid posting about them on social media. Or, if you start to get bored during a Zoom meeting, understand that your actions are visible to others and are likely being recorded and thus you should resist the urge to entertain yourself in an unseemly way, either alone or with a partner. And finally, refrain from publicly providing an online contact who is feuding with her ex-husband with advice on how to successfully murder said ex in a way that would allow the claim of self-defense to be asserted.
When you really think about it, it's just common sense. The Internet is forever, so behave accordingly. It’s really not that difficult, and I know you can do it. So what do you say? Will you take my advice and stop acting like idiots online? Not only will you avoid a lot of hassles and unpleasant consequences, we’ll all be better off for it. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a win-win all around!
Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney, author, journalist, and the Legal Technology Evangelist at MyCase law practice management software for small law firms. She 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 Thomson Reuters treatise. She writes legal technology columns for Above the Law and ABA Journal and speaks regularly at conferences regarding the intersection of law and technology. You can follow her on Twitter at @nikiblack or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.