Saturday, February 20, 2010

LinkedIn Lawyer Profiles and the Rules of Professional Conduct

LinkedIn is a great social media tool to network in a generally professional environment. There's a possible ethics trap, however, for attorneys on the site. Profiles contain a "Summary" section followed by a "Specialties" section.

How's that a problem? Pennsylvania Rule of Professional Conduct 7.4 provides that:
"Rule 7.4 Communication of Fields of Practice and Specialization
.... A lawyer shall not state that the lawyer is a specialist except as follows...."
What follows is a list of exceptions for patent and admiralty practice, and certifications approved or granted by the Supreme Court. Many states have a similar provision.

I am by no means the first person to pick up on this. One blogger called it a "Time bomb in your LinkedIn profile." Another attorney countered that she's:
"not inclined to muck up a simple profile with a bunch of legal-ese on because someone up at the bar stretches the meaning of 'specialties' beyond any reasonable interpretation."
Beyond any reasonable interpretation? Is it unreasonable to extend a prohibition referring specifically to "specialization" and "specialist" to include "specialties?" I don't think so. I don't want to go all Dr. Seuss on you, but a gardener gardens in the garden... and a specialization is the specialty in which a specialist specializes, right?

What do I do on my profile? Well, for now I'm going with this:

Maybe it is unnecessary. People can still see my areas of practice though. Worst case scenario: People who view my profile will see that I am aware of the Rules of Professional Conduct, and I take them (what some may consider too) seriously. What's wrong with that?