On May 11, 2017, the Commercial and Federal Litigation Section of the New York State Bar Association issued its third iteration of Social Media Ethics Guidelines. As the authors of the Guidelines aptly recognize: “As use of social media by lawyers and clients continues to grow and as social media networks proliferate and become more sophisticated, so too do the ethics issues facing lawyers.” This recent update adds principles regarding professional competence and attorney use of social media, and addresses ethical considerations regarding maintaining client confidences, handling potential conflicts of interests related to social media, following clients’ social media, and communicating with judges via social media. Issued in 2014 and updated in June 2015, the Guidelines aim to provide “guiding principles” as opposed to “best practices” for the modern lawyer’s evolving use of social media. The authors acknowledge the guidelines’ inherent inability to define universal principles in the face of varying ethics codes, which “may differ due to different social mores, the priorities of different demographic populations, and the historical approaches to ethics rules and opinions in different localities.” The Guidelines are based upon the New York Rules of Professional Conduct and New York bar associates’ interpretation of those rules....
On February 3, 2015, the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court affirmed the dismissal of a complaint two attorneys filed against the Office of Attorney Ethics and its Director (collectively “OAE”) claiming OAE lacked authority to investigate and prosecute ethics grievances against them for “friending” a party to a litigation on Facebook. The Appellate Division’s decision is significant – it affirms OAE’s power to investigate and prosecute alleged ethical violations and demonstrates the potential consequences for attorneys’ improper use of social media in litigation.
Florida is the Latest State to Allow Attorneys to Advise Clients About the Removal of Social Media Posts and Pictures
On January 23, 2015, the Professional Ethics Committee of the Florida Bar issued an advisory opinion holding that before litigation commences, and absent any other preservation obligation, an attorney may advise a client to: (1) remove information from social media pages and (2) change privacy settings from public to private, as long as the client retains a record of any deleted information or data. In so holding, the Florida ethics committee joined panels from New York, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina that have issued similar guidance.
ABA Says that Attorneys May Investigate Jurors’ Social Media Presence, Even if Automatic Notifications are Generated
The American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility recently weighed in on the ethical parameters of attorneys’ investigation of jurors’ social media presence. In ABA Formal Opinion 466, the Committee concluded that an attorney may review a juror’s social media presence; an attorney may undertake that review even if the social media website issues a notice to the juror that the attorney viewed his social media profile; and an attorney may not request private access to a juror’s social media profile.
As we reported in the Gibbons E-Discovery Law Alert in May 2012, “Reg FD” could present a potential pitfall for those that post material non-public information via social media platforms. In early December 2012, that “pitfall” became a reality for Netflix Inc. CEO Reed Hastings. In July 2012 Hastings published on his public Facebook page a 43-word post concerning viewership statistics, including that Netflix subscribers had watched one billion hours of video the previous month.
A recent decision in California, Mailhoit v. Home Depot, U.S.A., Inc. et al., Civ. No. 11-03892 (D.E. 105, C.D. Cal. Sept. 7, 2012) reiterates the limits to which social media information is discoverable. Consistent with Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1) and 34, the Court made clear in the context of a motion to compel that “discovery requests for social networking site content must be reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence and describe the information to be produced with ‘reasonable particularity.'”
“Did I Just Get a Tweet From Goldman Sachs?!?”: Increased Expansion and Scrutiny of Social Media in the Financial Services Industry
With the increased use of social media by financial services industry participants, more activity and scrutiny can be expected from financial regulators. This is not to mention the litigation from investors that could arise out of, for example, the misinterpreted or well-meaning post from an advisor that simply did not translate to “less than 140 characters.” It appears that there is a trend (amongst at least the larger financial institutions) that a united and pre-approved voice is best for now.
FINRA Issues Regulatory Notice 11-39: Social Media Websites and the Use of Personal Devices for Business Communications
In August 2011, FINRA, the self-regulatory agency of the securities industry, issued Regulatory Notice 11-39, offering additional guidance concerning the use of social media and supplementing its first notice on the subject–Regulatory Notice 10-06, issued in January 2010. Notice 11-39 focuses on issues relating to FINRA members’ use of social media, including record-keeping, supervision and responding to third-party posts and links. The Notice includes 14 “Q&As,” which provide instruction on the practical application of a firm’s and “associated person’s” (i.e., FINRA members) obligations under applicable laws and regulations when it comes to social media. With respect to record-keeping requirements, social media websites raise new complications because member firms do not themselves typically sponsor or host the content on those websites. The Notice, however, clarifies that record retention requirements continue to apply to content on social media sites and that the controlling question is whether the communications on those sites relate to the firm’s “business as such.” Any business communication made via Facebook, for example, must be “retained, retrievable and supervised.”
Obtaining data and images from social networking sites (“SNS”) such as Facebook, LinkedIn and MySpace has become commonplace in civil and criminal litigation. However, issues surrounding proper authentication of this information at trial remain unresolved. The New York Supreme Court’s recent opinion in People v. Karon Lenihan, 1714/2008 (Sup. Ct., Queens Cty. Nov. 12, 2010)highlights judicial skepticism surrounding the use of SNS evidence.
New York’s Appellate Division Finds Facebook Accounts Off-Limits When Discovery Demands are Non-Specific
In McCann v. Harleysville Insurance Co. of New York, 910 N.Y.S.2d 614, 2010 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 8396 (N.Y. App. Div. Nov. 12, 2010), New York’s Appellate Division, Fourth Department affirmed the trial court’s refusal to compel Plaintiff to produce information regarding or provide access to her Facebook account. Plaintiff was injured in an auto accident with one of Harleysville’s insured. She filed a personal injury suit against the insured, which resulted in a settlement. Plaintiff thereafter commenced a new action directly against Harleysville for certain uninsured/underinsured auto insurance benefits.