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The other day I was scrolling through Facebook when a post caught my eye: A law firm shared, on its Facebook page, that it just submitted a trademark application on behalf of a client — and included a screenshot from the USPTO website with the client’s name on it.
Now, trademark applications are public information, so there’s no ethics issue with confidentiality here. But it was a complete turnoff for me on a couple of levels:
Our job is to serve our clients, not to use them to bolster our image. It looks like this law firm is using its client, not serving them. If the client wants to voluntarily sing the firm’s praises when they post about their newly registered trademark, there’s nothing wrong with that. But if I were the client in this situation, I’d be pissed.
This type of behavior will get you on my blackballed list, which means I will never send work to you. (It’s not just bad opposing counsels. The people on this list come from all types of industries.) It’s part of my I-don’t-work-with-jerks and friends-don’t-send-friends-bad-referrals policies.
So not only is this firm potentially pissing off a client, the firm is hurting its reputation in and outside of the legal community.
Now, on the flip side, there is nothing wrong with creating content inspired by clients. I regularly say, “Life is blog material.” (I have the T-shirt and everything.)
Many lawyers write blog posts and social media posts about issues clients are facing and questions from potential clients. When I do it, I sanitize the story to eliminate identifiable information and make it more general when necessary. Sometimes, I even wait for weeks to post about a situation to avoid having someone think it’s about them.
The only time I write about a specific situation where names are used is when I’m writing about a current event from the news, and it’s never my own client.
There is nothing problematic about writing about real-life legal situations. That’s probably some of the most valuable content we create. What’s not OK is using our clients for our own benefit.
This isn’t the only lawyer behaving badly on the internet. Just last week, someone posted on the Legal Advice subreddit about how they are annoyed that their lawyer posted unredacted documents about their case on Instagram without their knowledge or consent.
This may be a situation where the lawyer is only posting documents that are publicly available, but it is still poor form. I’m not the only one who thinks so. In addition to encouraging the person to report their lawyer to their state bar, these are some of the comments on the post:
You might think that lawyers would know not to post about their cases online, but it’s obvious this rule needs to be repeated for some practitioners. Having clients is a privilege contingent on doing quality work for them and about them, which includes treating them with respect at all times. They are not a commodity to be used.
Anyone who believes or acts differently doesn’t deserve to be entrusted with a client’s case.
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