You received an email from LinkedIn informing you that an old friend has endorsed your skills! While generous and thoughtful of your friend, and you agree that you are quite skilled in that field, as an attorney you must be cautious in accepting such endorsements.
A recent New York Ethics Opinion (NY Opinion 972) found that an attorney could not list “Specialties” on his LinkedIn page unless he is certified as a specialist in a particular area by a private organization approved for that purpose by the American Bar Association, or by the authority having jurisdiction over specialization under the laws of another state or territory, pursuant to New York Rules of Professional Conduct 7.4.
Interestingly, a visit to www.linkedin.com shows that the “Specialties” tab no longer exists and in its place is a section for “Skills and Expertise.” There also is an option for your colleagues to endorse your skills. The New York State Bar Association Committee on Professional Ethics specifically declined to address the ethical obligations associated with an attorney listing his or her “Skills and Expertise” online.
Although it is yet to be addressed in an Ethics Opinion, Virginia lawyers should be careful about boasting of their skills and accepting endorsements online if they want to avoid some of the concerns expressed in NY Opinion 972 and by the Virginia Bar (in Rule 7.4) regarding stating or implying a specialty. Moreover, Virginia has long warned against the dangers of advertising as articulated in Rules 7.1 and 7.2.
The hypothetical of an attorney walking the halls of a hospital looking for business is no longer the concern but instead issues arise with more complicated issues of social media and blogging. For example, a case which has been bouncing around on appeal regarding an attorney blogging about his successes online was recently settled by a consent order. In Virginia State Bar ex rel. Third District Committee v. Hunter, CL 12-335-7 (July 18, 2013), a concern was raised that Rules 7.1 and 7.2 (Communications Concerning a Lawyer’s Services and Advertising) were being breached when an attorney blogged case results without a disclaimer in compliance with Rule 7.1(b). The disclaimer requirement is specific in its required terms, font, size and color.
Attorneys are not always known for their humility but they should be careful of boasting on blogs or social media as it could be a very expensive lesson in humility.