Mistakes to Avoid when Answering Questions Online
In Part I of this series, we provided some basic guidelines to follow.What you don’t say in your responses, however, can matter almost as much as what you include. Steer clear of the following pitfalls – the most common mistakes attorneys make when answering questions online.
Mistake #1: Disclosing confidential information
Use great caution so you do not reveal confidential information about your clients online. This should seem obvious because attorney-client confidentiality is paramount. However, some attorneys reveal confidential information without even realizing it. Make certain that any examples you provide or explanations you offer cannot be traced back to a specific client’s matter. You’ll find it safer to use learnings and examples derived from your experience representing many clients in the same types of matters, rather than risk taking a specific example and trying to make it generic.
Mistake #2: Using false advertising
Adhere to national and state standards for what attorneys can and cannot say online. While the rules vary by location, some of the phrases you will want to avoid regardless include the following:
- Expert and specialist: Both terms have specific meanings in the law and require additional certifications to acquire. As such, attorneys who are not qualified as experts and specialists cannot claim that they are online.
- Best: Saying you are the best attorney is not necessarily illegal, but it can certainly be construed as misleading and may even be considered false advertising.
- Guaranteed results: When you guarantee client results, especially if you do so with 100 percent certainty, you could be in trouble if you do not deliver.
Mistake #3: Failing to add a disclaimer
It is easier than you would think to unintentionally establish an attorney-client relationship with someone online. What may begin as a simple exchange via an online messaging service could cross into attorney-client confidentiality when you begin answering specific questions in order to help someone. To set proper expectations, be sure to add a disclaimer at the end of your messages, blog posts, and other online content specifying that your communication does not amount to a privileged relationship. With this in mind, be sure to direct people to reach you through more formal means so you can establish a working relationship.
Mistake #4: Failing to consider who has access to your social media
When you receive a Facebook Friend or LinkedIn Invitation request, you may be tempted to build your network and accept the request no matter who sends it. However, caution is necessary; don’t connect with everyone just to connect. When posting, sharing, commenting, and answering questions, consider who can see it. If you have any concerns then keep it private so only a select audience can see it. This allows you to answer questions online without running into any issues or ethical concerns.
It is important to always maintain a professional image as an attorney.