As a legal professional, your personal social media profiles can have a big professional impact.
Legal professionals are held to high standards.
It’s crucial to stay aware of how your social profiles might appear. After all, these profiles are the digital “face” you are presenting to clients, colleagues, and potential employers.
Whether you’re looking for a new job, aiming for a promotion, starting a law firm, or even launching a political career, it’s a good idea to audit your social media presence. This article will show you how to do it.
Why should I review my social media activity?
There are several reasons attorneys and other legal professionals should review their social media activity.
If you currently work at a law firm, your firm is likely already monitoring your social media. The firm has an interest in making sure employees follow their social media policy and do not breach ethical rules or otherwise hurt the firm’s brand.
While a manager or partner at the firm could simply have a connection to you on social media, there are also third-party services and software solutions that can help the firm track your social media usage.
Rest assured that if a partner or colleague is following your social media account, you should be wary.
These guidelines are equally important if you are applying for a job at that firm.
Another reason for a social media self-audit is so that you can reap the many benefits of social media.
A compelling social media presence can help with networking and increase your visibility to both clients and potential employers.
However, this will only be an effective route if your social media profiles enhance your professional reputation.
If your posts instead sully that reputation, you will need to dig yourself out of a hole with other efforts. Better to review your activity and give yourself a fighting chance in a competitive legal marketplace.
What are some problematic social media posts?
We’ll talk about how to find your old posts and activity later, but first, let’s clarify what you should look for. What are the problematic posts that could give rise to complications with your career and future success?
The following are some areas of potential trouble.
#1: Legal advice
Any attorney on social media must refrain from providing legal advice. Even seemingly innocuous comments on social media could inadvertently give rise to an attorney-client relationship.
Accordingly, avoid discussing any specific legal matters.
General commentary about legal rights and the legal system can be great for marketing purposes, but avoid drilling down into any specific case.
If your social media includes any such “gray area” comments or posts, best to delete these now.
#2: Controversial or offensive content
Legal professionals should also avoid sharing controversial or offensive content on social media.
While the definition of “offensive” can be a judgment call, the best principle is to make thoughtful and well-crafted posts, not ones that are inflammatory or overly emotional. If a post is likely to provoke some kind of argument in the comments (or already did), consider deleting it.
Also keep in mind your firm’s social media policy if it has one.
Beyond divisive social issues, there are some areas where it is more evident that a post will be problematic.
One example would be posts that are overly critical, or even insulting, to your employer. Not only can this serve as grounds for termination, it makes you appear extremely unprofessional. If you need to vent, find another forum besides social media.
Avoid getting into online conflicts, either with people you disagree with or clients who leave negative reviews or comments. Resist the urge to comment on other people’s inflammatory posts, and stay out of online arguments. Responding to a controversial post can be just as damaging as being the original poster.
Attorneys are supposed to be level-headed in conflict situations, so avoid damaging your reputation by proving otherwise on Facebook, LinkedIn, or other platforms.
#3: Other ethical breaches
Attorneys must also be wary of other ethical breaches on social media.
For example, you will likely be in violation of bar rules if you call yourself a specialist in a certain field of law without the proper accreditation.
Some states do not allow you to compare your legal services to others, so be careful about overly boastful statements or even client testimonials. While you might be proud your client called you the best attorney in your geographic area, it may violate bar rules to post that review.
#4: Comments on legal developments
While commenting on high-profile legal developments can be an excellent way for an attorney to gain social media exposure, this should be done thoughtfully. Review these past comments to make sure they are helpful instead of hurtful.
Commentary on a Supreme Court decision or new legislation, for example, could pose issues in certain contexts. Avoid advocating for a position contrary to the business or legal interests of your clients.
Keep in mind that many of those highly publicized legal decisions fall under the category of offensive or inflammatory content to some people.
#5: Photos and images that give a poor impression
We’ve all seen the media storm that happens when someone finds provocative photos of a well-known personality. How many times have you seen a politician or business executive criticized for pictures that are decades old?
Check both your uploaded and tagged photos for anything that could be questionable. If your mother wouldn’t hang it on the fridge, consider deleting it from your profile.
This goes for jokes and memes, too.
Off-color jokes and anything that may be offensive should be deleted or the tag removed. Be careful about memes that don’t make sense to those who aren’t frequent internet users — an observer who doesn’t understand what your joke means may assume the worst.
How to do a systematic social media cleanup
To perform your social media cleanup systematically, the best place to start is where a prospective client or employer might — an online search.
Type your name into Google or another search engine and see if anything problematic comes up. If it is related to your social media usage, this is an easy place to begin.
Next, review your post history on each platform you use now or have used in the past. Remember, just because you haven’t been active on Twitter for the last few years doesn’t mean that nobody will see those old tweets.
While it is true that many of your social media posts cannot be deleted permanently, at least they will not be easily found by anyone reviewing your activity.
Remember to check both your tagged and uploaded photos, too.
Finding your past reactions and comments might be more difficult than seeing your posts. Each platform has a way to see all of your activity:
- On Facebook, past comments, likes, and other activity shows up in your Activity Log. This is hidden away in your privacy settings.
- Instagram includes an Interactions menu that can be accessed from your profile. There’s also an option to download all of your past activity.
- LinkedIn allows you to view and delete your activity for up to two years. This is found on your Activity page.
- TikTok gives you access to a log of all of your comments in your Comment History.
- Twitter — now called X — is easy. There are tabs on your profile page that list your tweets, replies, likes, and more.
- YouTube has a History section that will show you your comments and other interactions on the platform.
If you’ve used any other platforms like Rumble, Tumblr, or Reddit, a quick search of their help center will usually tell you how to find and delete past activity.
Also be ready to delete any offensive or otherwise harmful posts where another person tagged you. You will need to follow the specific protocols for removing tags on each platform, such as those for Facebook and Instagram.
Is all this effort necessary?
Completing a thorough social media audit is a lot of work. Do you really need to dig into the details to find tags, comments, likes, and everything else you’ve ever done?
The answer to that question is entirely up to you.
First, consider whether you’ve ever jumped into a political discussion, vented about a terrible coworker, or possibly lost your cool a little bit on a social media platform. In all the years you’ve had social media accounts, there’s a good chance that you’ve committed a few faux pas.
Reflect on changing social norms, too.
The standards of acceptability today are very different than they were ten years ago. You might have posted something that was innocuous at the time, but would be viewed very differently today.
Finally, decide if you can afford the chance that an old, embarrassing social media post might resurface.
If you’re a freelancer who might turn off a potential client or two because of your personal opinions, that might not bother you.
However, if you’re running for political office and you know that both your life, public and private, will come under scrutiny, it’s probably worth the work to do a full social media audit.
In any case, good social media hygiene is always a wise decision.