I try to keep up with developments in Legal Ethics by following the Legal Ethics Forum’s blog. This post by Andrew Perlman about LinkedIn endorsements was interesting.
The question is whether the new “Endorse a skill” feature on LinkedIn could violate legal ethics rules. Andrew suggested that it may violate Rule 7.1 of the Model Rules, which states that:
A lawyer shall not make a false or misleading communication about the lawyer or the lawyer’s services. A communication is false or misleading if it contains a material misrepresentation of fact or law, or omits a fact necessary to make the statement considered as a whole not materially misleading.
I think there is a strong argument that these endorsements are not statements by the lawyer about his or her own skills, and thus falls outside the purview of Rule 7.1.
However, California has more stringent rules. California’s Rules of Professional Conduct address this in Rule 1.400. The item of particular interest, however, is the standards adopted by the Board of Governors. One of those standards states:
(2) A “communication” which contains testimonials about or endorsements of a member unless such communication also contains an express disclaimer such as “this testimonial or endorsement does not constitute a guarantee, warranty, or prediction regarding the outcome of your legal matter.”
A LinkedIn page would clearly constitute a “communication,” defined among other things in Rule 1.400 as “(2) Any stationery, letterhead, business card, sign, brochure, or other comparable written material describing such member, law firm, or lawyers; or (3) Any advertisement (regardless of medium) of such member or law firm directed to the general public or any substantial portion thereof.
Therefore, it appears that an attorney’s LinkedIn profile, in California at least, should include the express disclaimer proposed by the standards.
In an overly cautious move, I have updated my LinkedIn profile in light of this. I am also planning on contacting the attorneys at LinkedIn to see if they can make such disclaimers part of the default profile configuration, at least for attorneys.
What do you think?