Attorney Ethics Counsel

February 29, 2016

Connect with Caution: Don’t Let Social Media Indirectly Compromise Client Confidentiality

We frequently repeat the refrain that client confidentiality in California is not a gray area: you must keep client information confidential.  Most attorneys (hopefully) by now know not to divulge confidential client information on social media.  Some attorneys have learned the hard way that casual comments about clients or client matters on social media is perilous.  But attorneys must also focus on the potential to reveal confidential client information indirectly on social media.  You may be revealing a lot on social media even though you aren’t posting directly about clients or client matters.  How so?

It is now fairly commonplace for attorneys to be connected to clients, and colleagues, and perhaps even opposing counsel, on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and similar social media.  But think carefully about the information that you might be revealing when you make such a connection.  Assume you are a bankruptcy attorney and you become connected with your new client, the General Counsel of a financially troubled company.  Are you signaling to everyone else that the company is pursuing, or at least considering, bankruptcy?  Or assume you handle large mergers and acquisitions for corporate clients and you connect in rapid succession with several people at your corporate client.  Are you signaling that they are considering a merger or an acquisition?  These two examples may not constitute an intended or direct breach of client confidentiality, but it is easy to envision a scenario in which either example leads to an indirect breach.

It is safe to assume that any information that you post to social media can, and will, be used to glean confidential information.  Everyone can learn a lot about you, and about your clients, by watching what you do on social media.  You can, and should, limit who can see this information, including limiting access to your network of connections, and by limiting access to your updates.  And before you connect with anyone on social media, consider whether the identity, or the timing, of that connection indirectly reveals confidential client information.


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