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Who’s on the ABA Commission on Ethics 20/20 Working Group on the Implications of New Technologies Seeking to Regulate the Internet?

Is the ABA Trying to Kill Lawyer Blogs, Facebook Profiles, Twitter Updates, Forum Posts and Lawyer Websites?

My friend Larry Bodine over at the Law Marketing Blog sent this email, which I immediately found both distressing and annoying.  The American Bar Association, affectionately known as the ABA, apparently formed a working group “on the implication of new technologies.”  The ABA Commission on Ethics is currently receiving comments in order to “supplement its research” concerning the following issues:

    A.    Online Social and Professional Networking Services

            1.    Identifying the Line Between Personal Communications and Lawyer Advertising.
            2.    Inadvertent Lawyer-Client Relationships
            3.    Lawyers “Friending” Judges
            4.    Gathering Information Through Networking Websites

    B.    Blogging

    C.    “Pay-per-click” advertising

    D.    Lawyer websites

            1.    False or Misleading Statements on Websites
            2.    Inadvertent Lawyer-Client Relationships
            3.    Giving Legal Advice
            4.    Confidential Information on Websites

Related  Stories:

ABA, Social Media and a time to Panic

Should State Bars Regulate Marketing?

ABA Wants To Regulate Lawyer Online Marketing

I will be posting more about this in the future as well as conducting some interviews.  Obviously, there are tremendous interests in preserving the “old way” of doing things within the legal profession.  That “OLD WAY” essentially was preserving the good ol’ boys network primarily designed to keep citizens and prospective clients and clients in completely in the dark concerning legal services.  Blogging has created a tremendous amount of free content for consumers on the Internet, enabling people to avoid having to hire an attorney in many instances.  In other instances, it allows the potential client or client to become highly educated concerning their own legal matter.  All of this is to the disadvantage of a large segment of law firms and lawyers who “pretend” to have experience or expertise or otherwise want to keep their clients largely in the dark. 

Further, the ABA and ethics rules have had the obvious effect of precluding competition within the legal services area.  By keeping information from clients about such matters as alternative fee arrangements, new client-friendly customer service models and other innovations, the old guard can keep raking in the money without having to offer competitive services or think about things such as improved client service. 

While the ABA Group purports to “not take a position” concerning the matters they are looking at, the fact that they are even looking at the above list of issues as somehow necessary of regulation speaks volumes.  The ethical rules already govern lawyer behavior across all different mediums.  Lawyers aren’t allowed to misrepresent or deceive clients on the internet, or at a cocktail party.  Do we have special rules for Yellow Pages advertising?  Do we have special rules for cocktail parties?  Do we have special rules for newspaper advertisements? 

As we try and flush out some of the issues involved in this effort by the ABA, recall that a lawyer’s right to engage in commercial free speech and the community’s right to have that information available to them, is established in the United States Supreme Court a case of Bates v. State Bar of Arizona, 443 U.S. 350 (1977).

The comment period is open until December 15, 2010.  I would encourage everyone to provide their comments to the ABA for their own sake, and the sake of U.S. Citizens who are sometimes left to retain attorneys in order to handle legal problems. 

Responses to these questions or comments on any related issues should be directed by December 15, 2010, to:

Natalia VeraSenior Research Paralegal, Commission on Ethics 20/20 ABA Center for Professional Responsibility 321 North Clark Street 15th Floor Chicago, IL 60654-7598 Phone: 312/988-5328 Fax: 312/988-5280


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