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'Keeping it Real' on Social Media

  • June 06, 2016
  • Brad J. Greenshields

In Hill v. Church of Scientology, the Court of Appeal for Ontario observed that “the most valuable asset of any lawyer is one that, if lacking, cannot be compensated by any amount of talent or industry:  it is the justified reputation for integrity”. This “fundamental quality” of a lawyer is a positive duty under Section 2.1-1 of the Rules of Professional Conduct. There is no doubt that integrity is the essential glue that binds together the lawyer-client relationship. On a broader scale, public confidence in the administration of justice and in the profession may be eroded by a lawyer’s irresponsible conduct. 

At the same time, while we are lawyers by day (and often by night), we are also individuals with colourful personalities, quirks and interests that define who we are beyond the practice of law. For some, our tabs and robes are just one of several costumes in our closets. 

In a world pre-occupied by image and instant information, social media is a potent yet perilous tool for the legal profession. Firms big and small have evolved beyond simple websites and use social media to brand their trade and connect with the public. But what of those of us whose enthusiasm for communicating with the world pushes the boundaries of conduct becoming of the idealized lawyer. Those “sexy” photos or outrageous commentaries cannot be immunized by the disclaimer, “Tweets are personal views only.” For better or worse, the way in which we as lawyers conduct our private lives – particularly for public consumption - changed forever the moment that we swore the oath at Convocation. 

Being a lawyer does not, and should not require us to compromise our private lives. However, what is required is an extra layer of good sense and judgment.

While the Commentary suggests that “generally” the Law Society will not be concerned with our “purely private or extra-professional activities”, that general rule will yield where activities tarnish the integrity of the lawyer or profession at large. Being a lawyer does not, and should not require us to compromise our private lives. However, what is required is an extra layer of good sense and judgment. When it comes to posting on the web, ask yourself, “Is this something that I would display in my office when meeting with a client?” If the answer is “no”, then leave the homecoming party photos in the album next to your toga at home. 

It goes without saying that in today’s world, nothing is every truly deleted. Anything that you share electronically or otherwise even with just one person, can and likely will end up being available to all. The (former) Justice Lori Douglas saga is an extreme reminder of the potential fallout of unintended exposure. Beyond personal embarrassment, legal professionals also face potential regulatory consequences for “Conduct Unbecoming” (Rule 7.8 2-3). 

Ironically, while jealously protective of our clients’ privacy and confidentiality, we sometimes lose sight of the value of those boundaries within our own affairs.  We live in a world where true privacy and anonymity are increasingly elusive. As members of the legal profession, we can use social media to help educate the public and uphold the integrity of the profession. Freedom of expression and individual liberties are the bailiwick of the work we do. We must fight for these ideals and do the bar proud through vigorous advocacy on behalf of our clients, but also by reminding ourselves that our conduct – within or outside the courtroom – reflects on the integrity of the profession and the justice system as a whole. 

Now, where did I put that toga?

Brad GreenshieldsAbout the Author

Brad Greenshields practises criminal law as an associate with Greenspan Partners LLP.

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