Florida Judges are Prohibited from "Connecting" with Attorneys Likely to Appear Before Them on LinkedIn

    June 7, 2012

    Lawyers may not be “friends” or “connections” with lawyers who may appear before them, the Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee confirms.

    The Advisory Committee opined back in 2009 that it was not permissible for a judge to approve a lawyer who may appear before the judge as a “friend” on a social networking site such as Facebook. Nearly three years later, another judge asked “but what about LinkedIn?” Specifically, the judge inquired:

    Whether a judge may add lawyers who may appear before the judge as “connections” on the professional networking site, Linked In, or permit such lawyers to add the judge as their “connection” on that site?

    ANSWER: No.

    The Inquiring Judge argued that there should be a distinction between Facebook, “where family and other personal relationships are fostered,” and LinkedIn, which the judge said was “for the purpose of conducting professional networking.” The Inquiring Judge submitted that unlike Facebook, “a judge’s connection on LinkedIn with lawyers who may appear before the judge does not reasonably convey the impression to the public that a personal relationship of any kind necessarily exists between them.”

    The committee disagreed, stating that Florida Judicial Canon 2B prohibits a judge from conveying or permitting others to convey the impression that they are in a special position t o influence the judge. The committee stated that, as it had found with Facebook in 2009, LinkedIn’s processes for selecting “connections,” and the fact that a judge’s list of connections are visible to others who the judge has approved, convey that impression and therefore violate Canon 2B.

    The committee also observed that in California, a judge may accept a lawyer as a Facebook friend or LinkedIn connection if that lawyer “may” appear before the judge, but not if the lawyer actually has a case pending before the judge. The committee deemed that approach to be too difficult to administer, as it “contemplates a judge constantly approving, deleting, and reapproving lawyers as ‘friends’ or ‘connections’ as their cases are assigned to, and thereafter concluded or removed from, a judge.”

    I receive this question frequently during presentations I deliver on ethics in social media and the law.  Typically, the inquiry comes from who attorneys who receive “invitations to connect” on LinkedIn from judges. I generally respond that judges would be prohibited from making these connections based on the prior advisory opinion deeming Facebook “friendships” a violation of Judicial Cannon 2B, although it was not directly expressed in the prior ruling. While these advisory opinions do not impose a responsibility on the attorney to refuse the connection, this decision confirms the proper course of action would be to ignore the invitation. The analysis above was originally published on Law.com. Law.com cited the Legal Profession blog in its original article.

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