The Business Litigation Blog

The Internet and Legal Ethics

The ethics experts of the legal profession have their work cut out for them in our digital age. With the emergence of new social media platforms and research/communication sites, there is a constant need for evolution of regulations regarding the practice of law and the internet.

Social media communication can be a difficult realm to navigate. In New York, San Diego, and Philadelphia, however, bar association ethics committees have recently published opinions on the topic that can serve as good resources for attorneys.

The opinions can be summed up as follows:

1 Attorneys are permitted to use social media in order to research jurors or adverse parties; however

2 Attorneys are not permitted to communicate with jurors via social media platforms.

3 Neither attorneys nor those employed by them are permitted to connect with jurors or utilize an alternate account to connect with them.

4 If an attorney discovers through viewing publicly posted information on social media evidence of juror misconduct, he/she must report it to the court.

With regard to jurors’ internet use: While it is made clear to jurors that conducting research or communicating about the trial is not allowed, the ease and anonymity of the internet can sometimes serve as a perilous temptation. Some states have added new sections to their juror instructions in order to directly address this issue.

Common websites/social media/communication outlets banned are: search engines, Google Maps (for research of locations related to trials), Wikipedia, Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, YouTube and chat rooms. Use of mobile devices during trial or deliberations is also forbidden.

With the continued rise of new social media outlets and internet research and communication, ethics committees in other areas are sure to follow suit in order to protect the integrity of the legal process.  

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