A Curmudgeon's Perspective

Lawyers and Social Media: Facebook ‘Em, Danno!

By | Oct.17.13 | Curmudgeon's Perspective, Daily Dispatch, Ethics, Social Media

Otto Sorts

Krebbs came to me for advice. It seems one of his associates had called in sick the day they were to prepare massive final documents for a filing, leaving Krebbs high and dry to finish it by himself. That very same night, however, Krebbs saw this guy’s Facebook status — complete with celebratory selfies, mind you — about the romantic day he’d had with his girlfriend in the city. Ah, social media.

Needless to say, Krebbs was pissed, but he couldn’t figure out the best way to react. Should he fire the associate for lying? Make him take vacation instead of sick leave? Berate him for leaving Krebbs in the lurch? All — or none — of the above?

Mind Your Own eBusiness

Social media lets anyone get all over everyone else’s business immediately and intimately. Collegial, yes. But it comes with a price. I’ve ranted about the dangers of public monkeyshines on the Internet for job applicants, but the acute visibility actually presents a constant challenge in the workplace.

When I was a young lawyer, a lot of what we knew about the old guys in the firm was via the photos in their office, scuttlebutt around the watercooler, and an occasional social event where you might meet spouses or significant others. Sure, there were lots of war stories shared, but seldom were these about personal lives. You certainly knew things about your coworkers if you socialized with them, but most everyone else’s personal life was unknown to you. You’d be more likely to chat up the clerical staff about their kids and families (or marital status), but even then each person controlled what they revealed, and who they revealed it to.

Today you need a different set of sensibilities. Here are some thoughts:

  • Know who you “be-friend” on the Internet. (Get serious about understanding and keeping track of Facebook and the others’ security settings.) Make sure that only those you really want in on your details are the ones who are.
  • Be careful what you share. The things that were fun when you were wild and crazy (Beer Pong, anyone?) may not now be appropriate to share with everyone. And, yes, keep an eye on what your friends share about you on their pages as well. You never know what detritus will wash up.
  • You may have “friends” at work, but not everyone at work is your friend. Your “lunch buddy” or secretary isn’t necessarily your close personal friend. And your boss and your clients don’t need to know about your current sweetheart’s tattoo, or yours for that matter — regardless of where or what it is.
  • Never discuss your work on public or semi-public sites unless you are dead certain you have strict control over access. And even then, be mindful of your professional responsibility. The same rules that apply to “elevator talk” apply here, too, and you know what those are: DON’T!

Regardless of the technology, it is necessary to maintain boundaries among people in the workplace. It is very appropriate to be friendly, sociable and interested, but you need to know where to draw the lines. Every one of us can cite examples of lines that were crossed, often with dire results: bosses or clients upset, jobs lost, families impacted. If nothing else, failing to recognize and maintain the boundaries can negatively affect your working relationships.

Just ask Krebbs’ associate.

Otto Sorts has been reading law since before Martindale met Hubbell. Of Counsel at a large corporate firm that prefers to remain anonymous, Otto is a respected attorney and champion of the grand tradition of the law. He is, however, suspicious of “new-fangled” management ideas and anyone who calls the profession the legal “industry.” When he gets really cranky about something he blogs at Attorney at Work.

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