Lawyers, Ethics, and Social Media

Without moving too far into the controversial political sphere, it is safe to say that the current UK Government’s commitment to the Rule of Law is slightly lacking. From the move to prorogue Parliament in 2019 (deemed unlawful by the Supreme Court), to the current Internal Market Bill, it seems laws are seen as an obstruction rather than the glue that holds domestic and international communities together.

Unfortunately, solicitors and barristers, especially those who practise in the area of immigration, also seemed to be viewed by Boris Johnson’s Cabinet as an irritant. In late August 2020, the Home Office posted, then subsequently deleted a tweet claiming that ‘activist lawyers’ were undermining the deportation of migrants.

According to the Law Society Gazette:

“The 21-second Home Office video prompted an outcry from across the legal profession, which argued that immigration lawyers were simply enforcing parliament’s own rules and upholding the rule of law. Law Society president Simon Davis said: ‘We should be proud that we live in a country where legal rights cannot be overridden without due process, and we should be proud that we have legal professionals who serve the rule of law.'”

In early September, the Bar Council provided a robust reply of #ChangeTheRecord, after Home Secretary, Priti Patel again tweeted that removals of migrants crossing the Channel from France were being “frustrated by activist lawyers”.

In days gone by, such exchanges would have been made via letters or perhaps at social events, leaving parties time to think about the consequences of their comments. Now, an opinion expressed on social media can reach millions, and once a comment is out there, it cannot be easily taken back.

Some employers are now curbing their employees’ social media activities. The new BBC Director General, Tim Davie, recently told staff:

“If you want to be an opinionated columnist or a partisan campaigner on social media then that is a valid choice, but you should not be working at the BBC.”

All BBC employees now have to abide by new social media rules that will be, in Mr Davie’s words, “rigorously enforced”.

Solicitors work in one of the UK’s most heavily regulated professions. Therefore, a balance must be achieved between maintaining a social media presence to attract not only clients, but reporters whose request for comments can boost both an individual and their firm’s PR, and not damaging their firm’s reputation.

Below are some ways to avoid your use of social media breaching SRA regulations.

Be accurate and do not mislead

The SRA Code of Conduct states you must “ensure that any publicity in relation to your practice is accurate and not misleading, including that relating to your charges and the circumstances in which interest is payable by or to clients.”

Social media is a form of publicity, so ensure that any LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter posts are correct and truthful. If you outsource your social media function to another business, check everything before it goes live.

Avoid arguments

SRA Principles state you must act with integrity and not do anything that could negatively affect the trust the public places in the legal profession.

There is a saying “don’t feed the trolls”. If someone leaves a rude comment about a blog post or a tweet you have authored, do not engage in an online diatribe. Either ignore it or politely respond back. The former is usually advisable.

Do not breach client confidentiality

It is essential that you do not mention a client by name or write about one of your cases which makes the parties easily identifiable. The exception is if the case has been reported and your client’s name is already in the public domain.

Follow your employer’s social media policy

Your employer may have a social media policy that states what can and cannot be said on social media. This policy can also cover your personal social media use. Although your employer cannot prevent you from exercising freedom of speech on your private social media account, they can discipline you if you make disparaging remarks about your workplace or the legal profession.

There is a reason The Secret Barrister remains anonymous. To avoid career-threatening disciplinary action, exercise as much care with social media posts and comments as you would with emails and letters.

We have been helping solicitors and other legal professionals with disciplinary and regulatory advice for over 20 years. If you have any questions relating to an SRA investigation or an SDT appearance, please call us on 0151 909 2380 or complete our Free Online Enquiry.