Social Media for Lawyers: Dos and Don’ts

Graphic illustration of smartphones and a judicial hammer
Sabrina Dougall

This article is for digital marketing education and should not be considered as legal advice.

Social media for a law firm can seem like an oxymoron. Yet it's simply an extension of your digital marketing – and a great chance to attract more clients. Albeit there are some nuanced ethical issues attorneys should bear in mind when using Twitter, Facebook, and the like. We'll cover some of these, based partly on recent guidance issued by the American Bar Association.

In this guide we'll go through some essential “dos” and “don'ts” of social media law firms and lawyers should take note of. We're not going to discuss networking among professionals here. Rather, this article will look at best practices for communicating with the general population as a lawyer on legal issues.

Is Social Media Really Worth Having for Law Firms?

Surprisingly, videos about legal matters are very popular on YouTube, Instagram and similar platforms. On TikTok, it's even got a nickname: “lawyertok.” Content with tags such as #lawyersoftiktok #familylawyer #familycourt and #custody have hundreds of thousands of views. It's a great way for lawyers to build up trustworthy public profiles and raise awareness of their law firms.

You might not think people would seriously look to social media for legal advice of all things, but users trust platforms like these more than ever before. One in five people searching online for an attorney will use social media – that's too many people to simply leave for competitors to snap up.

We’re going to look at some examples of excellent legally-themed social media that stays on the right side of the ethical conduct boundary.

YouTube screengrab of attorney Joe Coimbra
Attorney Joe Coimbra gained a quarter of a million views on his video on "How to Defend Yourself in Court"

While handing out legal advice over Twitter would be a professional misstep, there are ways of conveying general legal information that benefit Joe Public. After all, lawyers should refrain from giving tailored guidance without due process. Yet your social posts can be a great way of showcasing your legal knowledge, professional dedication and approachable demeanor.

A considerable 68% of adults say they now prefer to message a business via a chat app more than they did prior to the pandemic. So instead of sitting waiting for the phone to ring, law firms can engage new clients over social media.

If that sounds like a significant investment of time, it's common to hire a third-party to manage law firms' social media channels.

Did You Know?

In the US, 83% of law firms outsource their marketing.

Your social media channels are touchpoints for your law practice; the “mere exposure effect” of seeing your posts will reinforce brand familiarity over time. To put it plainly: effective, quality social media content will convince Joe Public to trust and like you. But it will not be the only form of advertising that does so; social media marketing works best in combination with search engine marketing (paid adverts on search engines) and website optimization.

Social Media for Lawyers: Dos

Lawyers must be aware of some critical ethical and professional conduct issues relating to their use of social media at all times. The ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct are particularly relevant, and, in particular Formal Opinion 480 published in 2018. These highlight the importance of lawyers continuing to educate themselves on updates in technology that have a bearing on their legal work.

In light of the formal guidelines, some key takeaways are:

✔️Do: Manage Relationships Appropriately

  • You should be careful about creating a client-lawyer relationship in a conversation over social media.

Exchanging comments on a Facebook post, for instance, may tip over into this area. So it's best to tread carefully if you're going to discuss specific legal matters using social platforms. On rare occasions, some forums may be moderated by third parties who may or may not have ethical and legal interests at heart. For example, web forum Reddit has a particular chatroom for law-related discussions which explicitly forbids solicitation of legal advice.

Reddit Ask Lawyers rules screenshot
A forum called "Ask_Lawyers" on Reddit bans giving legal advice about particular situations.
  • Don’t add people involved in a case on social media who already have legal representation, without the express permission of their current counsel.

Professional boundaries matter online as much as they do in the physical world. Of course you'd never befriend someone in real life who is an interested party in an ongoing legal case. Adding such a person as a friend online, or liking or sharing their posts or otherwise communicating inappropriately are all best avoided. Judges have been removed from the bench in light of ill-advised social media use.

✔️ Do: Keep Appropriate Boundaries

  • You’re forbidden from giving legal advice to unrepresented persons because of a potential conflict of interest with your own client’s representation.

You should absolutely think twice before contacting a witness on social media to dig for information. If you choose to go anywhere near this boundary, some states require you to identify yourself as a lawyer with a vested interest in the information you’re seeking.

  • You shouldn’t use any sneaky tactics to try and contact persons of interest in a case through social media profiles that are set to ‘private’ or require permission to access.

And, no, it’s not a good idea to get someone else to do this for you.

  • Lawyers who blog or engage in other public commentary must take care not to reveal information relating to their representation of a client.

Don’t reveal a client’s identity or anything about your work with them unless you have the express permission of the client. This applies to past, present or prospective clients. A good solution to this is to ask for clients to submit their own testimonials they’re happy for you to post on your or your law firm's social media. Here's an example:

In this Instagram video, the person provides endorsement of Patterson Law Group without giving any details of a case or particular legal matter. We can’t even tell if the person was a plaintiff or defendant. They simply say: “Thank you so much Tina for being the vessel in my lawsuit[…] I want to thank you for everything that you've done for me and my family.”

Attorneys may question the value of posting such a vague message on their law firm's social media. The worth of this promotion is the social proof for prospective clients; regular Americans benefit from the compassionate professionalism of a law firm like this one.

✔️ Do: Maintain Professional Transparency

The precedent of proper conduct in legal services advertising issued by several Bar Associations over the years may well be highly relevant when publishing on social media. For instance, in the New York State Bar Association Rules of Professional Conduct (2021), Rule 7.1 states: “[…]it is of the utmost importance that lawyer advertising not be false, deceptive or misleading.” To that end, here are some salient nuggets of advice:

  • You should be clear about the scope of your legal practice, as geographies clearly differ in their jurisdiction.

This can be tricky to maintain given the global audience of online media. However, it should be clear for anyone to see from your social media profile descriptions where exactly you practice law.

  • Avoid labeling a lawyer a a specialist in certain fields of law unless they really have accreditation.

You can say you practice certain areas of law, but it’s important to avoid ambiguity over whether or not attorneys in the firm are really certified experts in it. A Twitter post about Christy J Wood, Family Law Attorney at Park Zeigler PLLC successfully serves both of the above purposes:

Clicking the link in the above Tweet, we reach the professional bio of Christy J Wood on Parks and Zeigler's website. From there we can read more details of the attorney's accreditation and experience in practicing family law. The information in the Tweet is therefore accurate, honest, and useful to Twitter users searching for family law counsel.

✔️ Do: Remain Objective

  • Posting testimonials can get you into thorny territory. Some jurisdictions do not allow comparison of legal services without hard data.

Judge Herbert B. Dixon Jr. makes this clear in his 2018 article on recurring ethical issues in social media for lawyers. So even a client review as innocuous as “They’re the best legal team in all of Colorado!” could land you in hot water. And, yes, comments published on your social media channels – even by third parties – can be seen as your responsibility. You could avoid this by turning off comments or regularly monitoring responses and even deleting any you feel are legally risky.

  • Judges must not publicly comment on candidates for public office.

This extends to remarks made on social media as well – even if the account is a personal or private one. The Minnesota Board on Judicial Standards reprimanded Judge Matthew M Quinn in March 2021 over several Facebook comments on Trump and Biden. The public reprimand notice made mention of comments Judge Quinn had “liked” as well as written himself.

Really the latest ethical guidance boils down to:

  • Transparency is the best policy
  • Avoid conflicts of interest

But above all, you have a duty to keep educating yourself on lawyers’ proper use of social media. Ignorance is no excuse for crossing professional boundaries, and social media is changing rapidly.

Hm, That Seems Like A Lot of Restrictions…

The above limitations may not seem to leave much wiggle room for social media posting at all. However, we can distill several useful activities you can do:

  • Share news about updates to laws (in a factual, objective way)
  • Educate viewers on how the legal system works
  • Remind viewers of their rights to legal counsel
  • Spread positive feedback about the quality of your legal work or the professionalism and excellence of your legal team (although tread carefully here)

✔️ Do: Break Down Complex Ideas

It's easy to fall into the jargon of lawyer talk. But if you can explain complicated matters in really simple ways, your content will benefit so many everyday Americans. Social media rewards basic ideas expressed boldly. Law By Mike's content is so widely loved because it often answers an interesting question quickly. Here's an example:

✔️ Do: Give Value to Your Audience

Ideally, you want users to “Save” your posts. This gives a strong signal to social media algorithms that your content is beneficial – increasing the chances of it being recommended to more users. The more positive interaction your posts get, the more people they'll reach. That means more free advertising for you or your law firm.

To achieve this, you need to contribute truly valuable material. For example, attorney John Flud made several TikTok videos giving advice on how to speak to a judge. This is something the average person likely has no knowledge of at all. Apparently just using his smartphone, Flud recorded a few succinct remarks from his professional experiences. With a quick Google search, we discover Flud is an Associate Attorney at West, Webb, Allbritton & Gentry PC. Another tick in the “trustworthy” column.

✔️ Do: Use Disclaimers

It’s best not to assume your social media audience will give you the benefit of the doubt if you omit anything important in one of your posts. You can help your readership (or viewership) to understand the context of your posts better if you include a simple legal disclaimer.

The purpose of the disclaimer is to avoid any doubt over the nature of your posts – for example, a handy reminder that your tweets, reels and YouTube shorts do not amount to legal advice. Whatever you do online, you want to ensure it’s as above-board as possible.

✔️ Do: Plan a Long-Term Strategy

It's tempting to let social media posts fall by the wayside during busy periods. However, posting sporadically and leaving social media channels neglected for months on end is likely to harm your brand reputation. Rather than aiming to create a smash-hit post that goes viral and gets you tens of thousands of views, it's better to steadily publish quality content over time.

It's worth taking the time to refine who your audience is, and consider their particular needs before firing out random posts. It's best to narrow down your focus as opposed to making social media aimed at “everyone on the internet.” If your firm's lawyers can speak about principles of family law, plan a series of posts on that theme. If you're an attorney with a decade of experience in drug cases, tell your audience what they need to know about appearing in court over such matters.

That way, you're likely to cultivate a loyal following that comes back to you more than once. What good is a funny or entertaining video that blows up the internet if no one ever comes back to your channel again? That's why measuring your success is better centered on conversion metrics such as click-through rate and sign-ups for consultations.

Don't worry about how many views each post is getting. It's who you're reaching – not how many – that counts. That said, you may see a snowball effect in the size of your social media audience as you publish varied content on the same theme. Over time, search engines can come to see your channel as a source of authority on a specific topic, and rank your content more highly in search results listings for related keywords.

Stegall Law YouTube DUI videos screenshot
Stegall Law YouTube channel steadily gained more views on new DUI videos over time.

In the above example, criminal attorney Patrick Stegall's YouTube channel was steadily gaining a following after posting multiple videos on the theme of DUI legal hearings. However, a substantial amount of time lapsed between his third and second most recently published videos. It seems his viewers lost interest in the year-long gap between videos, plus the newer videos are on totally random topics. This could explain why his recent videos have just 5% the number of views of the ones from last year.

YouTube views for legal DUI video
Closely attend to the performance of your social media posts so you can create more content that your audience appreciates.

Instead, it would have been better to create more videos on the same topic of DUI advice. YouTube creators have access to more data insights on their own content than outsiders do. However, if we take the simple metric of number of views as a yardstick, we can see that videos on DUIs and the law are the most successful on Stegall Law Firm's channel.

It seems the manager of this channel skipped a few steps in the crucial planning stage of social media. Content should be published regularly in order to keep audiences engaged consistently over time. To overcome this, they could have set out a content calendar with a pipeline of videos scheduled for publication at regular intervals over the year. Tools such as Agorapulse, Hootsuite, or Buffer can automate this for you, so you can set-it-and-forget-it.

✔️ Focus on Your USP

Similar to keeping a long-term strategy in mind, you should create social media content which highlights your unique selling point as a legal professional or law firm. Remember what your goals of using social media are: to educate your audience and funnel new clients into your practice. The way in which you do this as part of your everyday counsel should be the focus of your content.

You'll need to spend time reflecting on what your legal practice does better than any other. Why do clients trust you? Is it your depth of experience in a particular niche? Your high success rate at court? Your connection with a certain community such as the elderly, Hispanics, or truck drivers? You can then come up with creative content ideas that display your USP front-and-center.

Maybe you have a young paralegal with a quick sense of humor. Could you ask her to script a few top tips on preparing for your first day in court as a defendant, for instance? If your team doesn't have the time, consider hiring outside expertise such as a social media marketing agency.

Remember to use captions for accessibility, and keep the word-count as low as possible to get the message across. The above TikTok from Law By Mike is a perfect example of humor combined with communicating factual content. The script and visual styling of this video brings the attorney's expertise and passion for justice to the forefront.

Social Media For Lawyers: Don'ts

Aside from adhering to ethics guidance and current media law (including reporting restrictions), there are some quick wins you can gain from bearing the following “Don'ts” of social media in mind:

❌ Leave Confidential Info on Display

They say hindsight is 20-20, and the last thing you want is your audience to spot rookie mistakes in your social media posts before you do. When you're filming any kind of video for publication, you've got to make sure the set is clear of any confidential info at all. If you're going to film at your desk, put your paperwork into opaque folders and turn off your computer screen.

If there's an opportunity to pause, zoom in, and take a screenshot of someone's private information in any of your videos – that's a total disaster. And a totally preventable one, too.

❌ Post Content “Just Because You Should”

Alright, so it's Valentine's Day. Your audience already knows that, and doesn't need you to remind them. This may sound silly, but law firms are not immune to pointless social media posting. It's critical that every post you publish is genuinely going to “feed” your audience with some kind of value or unique benefit that they can't get somewhere else. It would be much better to re-post an blog article, a piece of news or a legal fact – from another channel, if you have to – rather than a generic post that turns off engagement.

Happy Valentines Day text on pink background Instagram post
Your social media followers don't need you to tell them it's Valentine's Day.

❌ Offer Cynical Sympathy

It's a bad look. Natural disasters are unbelievably stressful and scary times for those impacted. Social media channels are often a first port-of-call for trying to access information about safety, survival and the whereabouts of loved ones. Similarly, acts of major public crime.

This is not the moment to advertise your legal services to potential victims. Posting content with hashtags of the current local or national disaster offering counsel will likely be seen as a cynical money-making scheme. Nothing says “ambulance chaser” like leaving a virtual business card on a thread relating to a school shooting.

Hurricane Ian lawyer facebook post
It's in poor taste to post about your legal services in direct response to natural disasters.

❌ Use Unlicensed Art or Music

Nothing more ironic than a legal firm breaking the law, is there? So be careful to check the licensing restrictions of photography, text and music that you want to use in your social media posts. Don't be so quick to copy-and-paste images you found on a Google search. On the Google Images page, click on “Tools” then “Usage Rights” and select an appropriate type of license for your needs. That will update search results to only include images with a certain license. Watch out for copyright music, as well, particularly on YouTube videos.

Google image licenses screenshot
You can search on Google images by usage rights.

Solid Social Media Strategy for Lawyers

We've hopefully made it clear that lawyers can do a lot of good in the world using social media. After all, the legal profession is often seen as walled-off from the outside world, with its own language and mysterious culture. Even though legal matters are complicated and serious, that shouldn't mean there's no room for quick explanations in layman's terms.

If attorneys can break down complex information, offer some genuinely useful advice, and teach citizens about their legal rights, they've surely done some public good. Not to mention, social media management is an essential arm of digital marketing for a law firm. Although you can pay for advertising space on social media platforms, publishing your own original content can be a cost-effective way of attracting new clients.

FAQs

What are the ethical issues for law firms on social media?
Ethical issues for law firms largely come down to maintaining professional boundaries, rules on advertising, and refraining from giving out legal advice. On social media, your audience could include current, former and future clients, as well as persons of interest in your legal cases. The anonymity of social media can tempt lawyers to act “undercover”, and make contact with such people without declaring their motives. Ethically, it's essential that lawyers don't use social media to dig for information from witnesses, defendants or plaintiffs. At the very least, an attorney should declare their profession and motives during such interactions.

Another ethically tricky matter is using social media to comment generally on legal matters versus giving specific advice. Lawyers are duty-bound to form an attorney-client relationship in a responsible way. It's therefore highly unprofessional to discuss a client's private matters in a public forum such as a Facebook post or Twitter thread.

What strategy can law firms use on social media?
Law firms should take a long-term strategy on social media, planning content well in advance. This ensures there are no unexpected content gaps, during which time any loyal following will drop off and never return. The best social media strategy for law firms is to work out your unique qualities and specialisms, then plan content that conveys these. You should create a content calendar for the entire year, aiming to post some form of content at least once per day. Note, this content does not have to be unique or even made in-house; re-publishing content from other channels is perfectly fine (so long as you respect copyright).

The vast majority (80%) of US law firms hire in external assistance to manage their social media platforms. This is a recipe for success because you can leave posting, commenting, and content creation in the hands of the professionals. Social media monitoring is time-consuming, so a partnership with a social media agency or freelancer is often the best strategy for law firms.

What social media platforms are best for law firms
TikTok is a surprisingly successful social media platform for lawyers. The short video format makes TikTok ideal for law firms to publish bite-sized facts about their practice, their jurisdiction, and citizens' legal rights.

For more in-depth commentary, many attorneys find YouTube is best. Conveying complex messages is not always possible within character counts that you'll find on Twitter. And Instagram reels only leave so much time for quick-fire information. Law firms can find a more focused viewership on YouTube, where attorneys can take at least ten minutes to explain legal precedents.

Written by:
Sabrina Dougall
Sabrina Dougall Web Marketing Expert

Sabrina is a business journalist whose career began in news reporting. She has a master’s in Investigative Journalism from City University London, and her work has appeared in The Times, The Daily Express, Money Saving Expert, Camen New Journal, Global Trade Review, and Computer Business Review. She specializes in writing about SEO (search engine optimization). Having run her own small business, Sabrina knows first-hand how critical digital marketing is to building a client base and local reputation.