Important note – this policy has been written in preparation for KJM Legal seeking authorisation from the Solicitors Regulation Authority to be a Recognised Body. We are not yet a Recognised Body and though we will generally act in accordance with this policy document, it cannot be fully in force until we become one. When we are, we will update this policy document to remove this additional wording.
Social Media Policy
We use social media to stay up to date with what is happening in the field and to increase our understanding of areas that are not touched upon in lawyers’ books or other publications.
The purpose of this policy is to set out in some detail how we use social media so that what we are doing doesn’t come as a surprise and to try to prevent awkward situations from occurring.
We do participate in discussions on social media when time permits, but we will never do so in a way that compromises client confidentiality or the confidentiality of another individual (i.e.. someone who might recognise themselves in our comments). We may identify businesses and other organisations e.g.. Schools and local authorities by name (though we will not do so where this would risk identification of an individual it is inappropriate for us to identify). We may alter identifying details or use a composite of experiences in different cases to illustrate a point without risking identification of individuals. We recognise where we have been involved in work for a child that the child has a separate right to privacy for their personal life and what is said online now may still be around to be found when they are much older. We do not use the “location” functions on social media, for reasons of our own personal safety as well as to protect client confidentiality.
We interact with (i.e. talk to, friend, follow etc) lots of people on social media so the mere fact that someone is interacting with us does not indicate anything about our relationship; they might be a client, they might be an expert witness, another lawyer, our families and friends or simply somebody whose postings or comments we found interesting and relevant. If you are a lawyer or expert witness or somebody else we interact with professionally (but you’re not one of our clients), we might well refer to you and your professional role online. If you are a client it is entirely up to you if you wish to identify yourself as one of our clients on social media; there may be times we advise you not to do this, but the choice is always yours. If you do publicly identify yourself as a client we will not deny it, because doing so would look absurd. If we ever do identify a client on social media, this will be in circumstances where doing so is not in breach of our duty of confidentiality to that client.
We will not knowingly follow/friend etc our clients, unless they have followed or friended us first, in which case we will probably reciprocate. Be aware that those doing social media may not immediately identify your account handle as relating to you, particularly if you are trying to be pseudonymous. We will not usually follow/friend accounts that appear to belong to children or vulnerable adults though we have no objections to them following us. We may follow/friend teenagers who are looking at careers in law or similar. Even if we do follow you on social media, please do not assume we will be reading what you post, we might be (and we might on occasions comment on it), but we probably won’t be, because we don’t have the time.
Individual members of staff will follow this practice themselves; they will not follow or friend an account they can see belongs to a client unless that account has followed or friended them first. Everybody will additionally take care to avoid interacting with accounts run by children or vulnerable adults that we know solely through our professional relationship. [We do not regulate employees’ personal lives to any greater extent than required by the SRA: following children or vulnerable adults we only know professionally is wrong because of the potential blurring of boundaries between personal and professional, but our employees may well know children or vulnerable adults personally]. We know that different people use different bits of social media in different ways; you might want to connect with us on LinkedIn, but consider you don’t want us, as your solicitors, being friends with you on Facebook. Our employees are entitled to make the same choices; they may accept or decline any request you make to follow their personal accounts as they see fit. Slightly different rules apply to our employees who are themselves under 18 for their own protection, given our duties under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.
If you do interact with any of our staff members personally on social media, please note that (as explained later in this document) we do not provide advice by social media. You have no reasonable expectation to replies to questions or comments made on social media; it is up to individual staff members how they use social media and they may not respond to every comment made to them.
Where employees are posting from their personal accounts, they are responsible for what they are posting; even if they are commenting on education and social care law etc. No such postings are to be taken as representing our corporate views; our employees are entitled to their own views and to express them publicly, if they so choose.
We care about our employees’ private use of social media only to the extent that it is:
1. Contrary to any of the SRA Principles – the ones most likely to be at risk in the context of social media are:
· Uphold the rule of law and the proper administration of justice – Principle 1
· Act with integrity – Principle 2
· Behave in a way that maintains the trust the public places in you and in the provision of legal services – Principle 6
· Run your business or carry out your role in the business in a way that encourages equality of opportunity and respect for diversity – Principle 9
2. Offensive and contrary to the SRA guidance on offensive communications, such as:
a. Offensive/pejorative or derogatory comments about someone’s race, sex, sexual orientation, religion or belief, marital status, disability, pregnancy, maternity. Offensive comments about people who are trans or have a trans history are also included here.
b. Sexually explicit comments in places where they are contextually inappropriate (so, not in the middle of a Twitter discussion on a serious issue, but it’s fine for staff to use dating apps in the usual way).
c. Comments which harass or victimise the reader (looking at impact on the people who actually see it, rather than necessarily the person or people who were intended to see it)
d. Using language intended to shock or threaten (this does not refer to every instance of using a swear word)
e. In some other way offensive or plainly inappropriate.
3. Likely to pose a serious risk to our reputation (most of these instances will be covered under the previous two categories) as a practice.
Additionally, we will not knowingly interact with accounts belonging to non-lawyers who are involved in litigation with us where we are on different sides of the case. However, again, it is important to be aware that we may not be able to identify an account as belonging to a particular person and we may inadvertently interact with somebody in this category. We may well interact with lawyers who are sometimes our opponents; this is professionally proper and encouraged.
We cannot give advice on social media to non-clients simply because we would not have enough background information to be confident the advice we were giving is accurate.
In respect of clients, we don’t give advice on social media, mainly because our opponents can all use social media too; it is extremely ill advised to be giving away tactical information about a specific case somewhere they could read it. Further, whilst there are restrictions on what salaried judges can say publicly online, they can still read social media.
Even though various social media platforms allow for private communication via some sort of messaging function, we don’t use this to provide advice as it hinders us in keeping a complete record of our correspondence in one place and places us at the mercy of the company running the social media site. Social media sites have their own agendas and can change in their functionality over time (anyone remember when myspace was social media?) and they may place less importance on maintaining a record of discussions than we need. The messaging systems are not well suited to longer messages and may be being stored outside of the EU. We might use social media messaging functions for the logistics of meeting you or arranging to talk in another way, but this won’t extend to giving substantive legal advice.
You will bear in mind that the duty of confidentiality we owe to clients (and the duty owed to genuine potential clients) is not owed to people who aren’t our clients and there is a range of action we will take if we are in receipt of menacing, aggressive, malicious, harassing, discriminatory, defamatory or otherwise offensive comments on social media. We might post such comments publicly. We might refer them to the police. We will certainly keep a record of them and use them as a filter to decline any instructions from the person who made them. We are likely to use the banning/blocking functions on the social media site to reduce the level of abusive comments we receive.
We do not monitor social media 24 hours a day; this is incompatible with doing the rest of the work we need to do. Quick responses will be the exception rather than the rule. Bear in mind that we may schedule posts in advance, so you may see posts appearing on social media at a time when we aren’t available by telephone, as the post was scheduled in advance. To manage the reputational risk to us as a practice of inappropriate use of social media, we do not routinely use it overnight or after the end of a full working day without taking a break. To balance the demands of other areas of work, we are unlikely to be active on social media every day. If you actually want a response to your communication, please email it to us, as our email is monitored during working hours.
We will make use of social media functionality in the usual way, so, for example, please do not assume a retweet constitutes a wholesale endorsement of something; we may retweet something we wish to comment about because we strongly disagree with it.
We know that once something is posted online, it’s out there forever; we may therefore sound much more cautious online than you would expect. A moment’s reflection is better for our reputation as careful professionals than an unwise comment going “viral”. Karen is responsible for handling any “incident” that arises on social media.
We are also aware of the law of defamation, though our expertise is in other areas. We would generally not want to risk long running, expensive litigation because someone thinks we have harmed their reputation by our comments, because this would be highly disruptive to our practice even if our comments are true. This will also make us more cautious and measured in our comments as a practice.
We operate, as we are required to operate, a complaints policy to deal with complaints made by clients about our services. It is contrary to our terms of business for complaints by clients to be made publicly [they can be made by post, email, telephone, in person or by video call]. Complaints by non-clients are not subject to the complaints procedure and we will consider how to deal with them on an individual basis.