Have you seen those television advertisements that issue calls for plaintiffs in medical lawsuit cases? Well, it’s possible to even find representation on social media channels now, as law firms across the country tackle civil rights issues, medical litigation, and IRS lawsuits online.
Searching for hash-tagged grievances and calls for legal aid are helping to connect lawyers acrossa the country with new clients. However, The American Bar Association has published articles on the intriguing–and sometimes alarming–role that social media has in evidence collection, client filtering, and confidentiality issues. It is no surprise that legal professionals are turning an interested, yet wary eye to social media as a tool for litigation.
Connecting with Plaintiffs
NPR revealed a few noteworthy cases of organizations pounding the social media pavement to find potential plaintiffs for lawsuits. For example, many conservative groups have banded together in legal action against the IRS by rallying at the website, Sue The IRS. Political associations aren’t the only ones seeking plaintiffs. A simple Twitter search regarding pharmaceuticals and personal injury can help connect thousands of clients to practicing lawyers every day.
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Digital culture allows attorneys to cast a wide net, using the viral potential of social media to pick up new clients. While you might not personally be affected by a lawsuit, you do have sharing potential, which can help lawyers spread the word about legal action. They can even find niche demographics through chat rooms, forums, and social media groups, which are likely to have prospective clients who are interested in specific lawsuits.
One of the most problematic things about using social media in the legal sphere is how posts can dramatically sway the tide of a case. As we’re sharing more grievances online, we also wind up sharing private details about our lives online without a second thought. However, this means that plaintiffs or defendants might accidentally upload incriminating evidence that will harm their cases. The self-incriminating effects of social media is already well known to law enforcement professionals, who already use Facebook pages and Twitter accounts to make drug busts and track down gang members.
Some lawyers give in-depth advice to clients on how to minimize the risk of self-incrimination by informing people about illegal post types and how to avoid posting things that can get you into trouble with the law. The rules regarding private conversations online start blurring when dialog participants start talking about illegal activities. Social media companies will often comply with government officials and law enforcement when presented with a subpoena, so that authorities can close in on risks to society.
While social media might be a prime meeting ground for lawyers and new clients, it can also lead to confidentiality issues that we haven’t faced before. The American Bar Association warns lawyers against using their professional contact lists on social media, because automated systems can accidentally “out” an attorney’s clients. This is particularly true of systems on Facebook and LinkedIn, which automatically tie your email and mobile contacts together under a single umbrella.
These automated systems can get attorneys into further legal trouble if they accidentally send friend invites to people they shouldn’t be soliciting professionally, such as people outside of their social circles who have not contacted them for legal advice. Invitations to connect or friend invites can sometimes call under the scope of prohibited solicitations. Lawyers should attempt to keep their professional and personal contacts separate, so that these lines do not blur on social media websites.
Online social networks have the potential to change the way we approach litigation. Advocacy groups and attorneys are finding it easier to connect with potential plaintiffs regarding a variety of concerns, including driving accidents, personal injury, and privacy concerns. At the same time, lawyers must be aware of the potential confidentiality concerns that arise with social media use.