A lot of people are concerned about online reputation management. They are worried about things posted online about them or their families. Lawyers in particular worry that unhappy former clients will post untrue things about the lawyer online that are difficult or impossible to refute.
Our Rules of Professional Conduct say a lawyer may reveal information relating to representation of a client "to establish a claim or defense on behalf of the lawyer in a controversy between the lawyer and the client" or " to respond to allegations in any proceeding concerning the lawyer's representation of the client." ORPC 1.6(b)(5)
OK, who thinks that applies because you didn't like something a former client said on Twitter or Facebook? Yeah. Me neither. Well, maybe if it libels the lawyer. But proving the fact of libel as a defense to an ethics complaint is not a road most of us would choose to travel.
So to me, the key to online reputation management is to put lots of positive information about you online and to tell your story. Just overwhelm any critics.
As we have seen with many well-documented Facebook and Twitter stories, the biggest potential danger area for damage to your online reputation is you. We saw it happen with flame e-mailing when angry and now you can post your anger or missteps online for the entire world to see with social networking.
Today's example is from a lawyer who uses Twitter. This lawyer is one of those who tweets many times a day and certainly has more followers than I do. I'm not going to identify that lawyer because I do understand if you do that many tweets a day not all will be award-winners.
But here's what he posted on Twitter as a "rule," not just an offhand remark: "If your lawyer's email address ends in hotmail.com, gmail.com or yahoo.com (or aol.com), find a new lawyer." Now don't bother searching. His identity is not the point. And the rule was apparently reprinted from a national publication.
But that jewel coming from a lawyer insulted a lot of people and made a lot of them angry. He's already had one blogger today react negatively. When I read those words, even now hours later, my reaction is "You judgmental self-important jerk. How dare you tell people to fire their lawyers because of the e-mail service they use?" I recognized this person's name as a lawyer whose Twitter posts I had read before. I had a neutral, leaning positive opinion of him. But now for a long time, this is what I will think of when I see his name.
The ironic thing is I don't disagree with his general thinking. Lawyers in private practice representing clients should use an e-mail address that includes the law firm domain name in most cases. But failure to do so is not a firing offense. So the point gets obscured by the message. A few minutes ago a very, very techno-savvy sent several of us an e-mail using his Gmail account because of temporary problems with his primary e-mail account. (That's OK, Erik. None of us can fire you.) One of the most techno-savvy lawyers I know uses a Yahoo address and has for well over a decade. Right, Dan?
In fact, every techno-savvy lawyer I know has a GMail account!
Still somewhere, some person will search Twitter for "find a new lawyer" and learn that someone thinks they should fire their lawyer because of his or her e-mail address. If they are searching for that, they obviously aren't happy and maybe that will be the tipping point to fire their lawyer. Maybe they will even file a bar complaint.
So why am i going on about this? Because it is an unneeded, serious self-inflicted wound. It would be one thing entirely if this person sold e-mail services or was writing a paper on e-mail services. I have heard lawyers make the case that Gmail should not be used for confidential client e-mails because of Google's Terms of Service. That's a defensible opinion. But even the most jealous advocate of that theory knows it wouldn't be smart to insult the audience.
We've all been there. I have one rather infamous e-mail in my past I'd still like to have back. If you tweet multiple times per day, you are going to hit a few foul balls. I'll probably anger some people with this post. But, I think I am trying to make a point, which is let's all be careful out there on the Internet, OK?
By the way, three people subscribed to my blog e-mail alert service today. One used Hotmail and one used Gmail.