A Virginia criminal defense attorney was charged with misconduct for blogging about cases he litigated. The blog “This Week in Richmond Criminal Defense” was accessible through his firm’s website and discussed a variety of legal issues and cases. But most of the posts described cases in which the attorney obtained favorable results for clients.
The Ethics Violation
The Virginia State Bar claimed that the blog was an “advertisement” under the Virginia Rules of Professional Conduct (which closely follow the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct), rather than an avenue to report on informative news and commentary. The Bar classified the blog as an advertisement because the attorney was mostly writing about cases that he litigated on behalf of his law firm clients. The Bar therefore charged the attorney with violating Rule 7.1 of the Virginia rules, which prohibits a lawyer from making “a false or misleading communication about the lawyer or the lawyer’s services” and because his blog posts did not include prominent disclaimers. The bar imposed a public admonition that included a requirement that he post a disclaimer complying with Rule 7.1 on all case-related posts.
There is no ethics rule that prohibits an attorney or law firm from writing a blog, but attorneys should refrain from writing about their current or past law firm clients or cases. Attorneys should also avoid commenting about pending legal matters in which their firm represents a client. If an attorney wishes to blog about past law firm cases or results, the blog will be considered an advertisement and must include a disclaimer that complies with the applicable ethics rule (which generally tracks ABA Model Rule 7.2). A disclaimer of this nature would not be necessary if the attorney is writing about cases in which the law firm does not (or did not) represent a client (although the firm should consider including a disclaimer that the blog does not constitute legal advice.
How to Comply with Social Media and Blog Ethics Rules
Having these critical ethical pitfalls on your radar screen can help you and your law firm avoid problems with your state bar association when using social media to market your practice. I will address more ethical pitfalls on the blog over the next couple weeks. You can also learn more about how to comply with bar ethics rules relating to social media marketing and blogs by registering for my upcoming webinar on December 11 titled “Avoiding Ethical Pitfalls in Social Media Marketing and Blogs.
December 11 | 12:00-1:30 Est | $150 Live or OnDemand
1.5 Hours of Ethics Credits Approved in Florida, Georgia, and Louisiana
Noted social media law attorney, author, professor, and keynote speaker Ethan Wall will teach you how to:
Who Should Attend:
Questions About the Webinar
CEO & Founder of Social Media Law & Order
Ethan teaches social media CLE programs to lawyers, law firms, and legal associations. He can design a one hour, half day, or full day workshop at your office, firm retreat, or conference that will be approved for both ethics and general CLE credit. Learn more about how Ethan can be your social media law keynote speaker at your next conference on topics related to social media and the law.