Ethical Pitfalls of Importing Contacts to LinkedIn

    February 2, 2017

    A new legal ethics opinion highlights the potential ethics violations that lawyers face when importing contacts on social media sites such as LinkedIn.

    LinkedIn helps lawyers build their online professional network by asking lawyers to import their email contacts into the social media site so that it can suggest people who are already members of the site that the lawyer may know. According to D.C. Bar Ethics Opinion 370, these suggested contacts likely include “a blend of personal and professional contacts… such as clients, opposing counsel, judges, and others whom it may be impermissible, inappropriate, or potentially embarrassing to have as a connection.” Lawyers then have the option to send a LinkedIn connection request to some or all of the people who appear in their contacts’ list.

    Since LinkedIn enables its users to easily send connection requests to people in their contact list, lawyers who are not careful may inadvertently request to connect with opposing parties, witnesses, jurors, judges, or opposing counsel. This can lead to serious ethics violations. Consider the following scenarios:

    • Requesting an opposing party who is represented by counsel to connect on LinkedIn would likely be a violation of the ethics rule prohibiting communication with a represented party.
    • Requesting a judge that you are likely to appear before on LinkedIn will cause the judge to violate the judicial canon prohibiting creating of the appearance of impropriety.
    • Connecting with a witness or juror during a pending case would likely violate impermissible ex parte communications.
    • Connecting with a client that the lawyer is currently representing may result (even by virtue of the connection) in directly or indirectly interfering with strategy or revealing client confidentiality.

    As a result, lawyers should use extreme caution before importing contacts to LinkedIn or another social media website. While importing contacts may seem beneficial to build connections, doing so could potentially create unwanted ethics perils. Instead, consider setting aside a few minutes a day to monitor your LinkedIn connection requests so that you have better control over who you should – and should not – connect with on social media. Learn more about social media marketing and how the legal ethics rules apply to social media through continuing education.

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