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Why and how your law firm monitors your social media posts

At first blush, it seems like everything you do away from work, including the posts you make on your social media accounts, should be none of your law firm employer’s business. After all, what you do on your own time should be entirely up to you, right?

Well, not so fast.

Your law firm may actually care a lot about what you say on social media. And, as you’ll learn in this article, they may have the right to take action against you if they don’t like what they see.

In light of your employer’s great leeway in this regard, we also published a companion piece to this blog titled, Your law firm is monitoring your social media – act accordingly. In it, you’ll learn how to avoid the types of social media posts employers find most offensive — they may not be what you expect.

For now, however, let’s take a look at why and how your law firm employer is entitled to monitor and act on your social media activity.

Why your law firm cares about your social media posts

The people who own and control your law firm (the partners) actually have many reasons for concerning themselves with your social media posts.

Setting legal issues aside for a moment, you must remember that your law firm is a business and a brand. Like other businesses, law firms want their employees to be good representatives of that brand.

For example, let’s say your firm has built a strong reputation for defending large employers in lawsuits brought by employees.

In that case, the partners definitely don’t want you showing up as a labor organizer on social media. Individual partners may not care that you hold those views, but collectively, they don’t want to lose major clients because someone watched your pro-union diatribe on Tik Tok.

In other words, what’s bad for the brand may be bad for your career.

How law firms monitor your social media activity

Monitoring employee social media posts is not a difficult task for law firms.

You don’t have to be connected to your boss on social media for your posts to be visible. There are plenty of software options and third party services that can easily keep tabs on employee social media use.

Of course, being friends with your managers on social media does make your posts more obvious to them.

Don’t forget that the really cool partner who takes everyone to happy hour on Fridays is also an owner of the firm. Though she might be genuinely interested in the vacation photos you post on Instagram, she’s also following you to make sure you’re not embarrassing her firm.

If something you post is offensive to the firm and its brand, that could signal trouble for your employment.

Let’s also not forget that your peers or subordinates may rat you out if you post something they find offensive. Consider that before you invite all of your coworkers to follow your accounts.

Keeping your social accounts private — visible to only your friends — is a good first step. However, a private account is not a free pass to post whatever you want. Those posts and comments can still surface, and a screenshot can circulate just as easily as anything else. Nothing that you post on social media is ever truly private.

Can you get in trouble for off-duty conduct?

At gut-level, it somehow seems wrong that your employer can discipline you or terminate your employment for things you say or do when you are completely off the clock.

The law, however, does not always favor those kinds of instincts.

In California, for example, employers are generally prohibited from disciplining an employee for off-duty conduct.

That sounds reasonable, right? It seems that your rowdy weekend shouldn’t come up at work on Monday.

Not so fast.

California law firms (and those in several other states) can still discipline an employee whose social media conduct potentially harms the business interests of the firm.

This is an incredibly broad standard.

In Sacramento, a popular sports talk radio host was forced to resign after tweeting a political stance that enraged some listeners. We don’t know whether the radio station owners agreed with him or not, but his tweet was seen as harmful to the station’s brand, and his career ultimately ended because of it.

Law firms can exert the same kinds of pressure against their employees.

Keep in mind that this negative employment consequence happened in California, where the Labor Code specifically prohibits employers from controlling employees’ political activities.

Nonetheless, like almost all states, California is an at-will employment state. Generally speaking, that means your law firm can terminate your employment without providing a specific reason — even if behind closed doors the reason is that they found your social media posts to be repugnant.

How to tell if your law firm is watching your posts

In modern society, social media use is ubiquitous with life.

Law firms know this, and most have gone to the trouble of crafting policies to guide employee conduct online. That’s why the best way to tell if your law firm is watching your social media posts is to turn to your Law Firm Employee Handbook.

There are two principal places you’ll want to check to determine whether your firm is paying attention to employee social media activity.

The first is easy to spot: look for a section titled “Social Media Policy.” If you see one of those, you know that your firm is at least attempting to give solid guidance for how you should present yourself to others online.

If you don’t see a Social Media Policy specifically spelled out for you, it doesn’t mean your firm doesn’t have relevant guidelines. It just means you’re going to have to search a little harder to find them.

Often, for example, expectations surrounding social media are contained within a “Code of Conduct” clause. This is where the firm might typically notify you that it can terminate your employment if you do things like pass out drunk at a public function.

These days, the Code of Conduct will likely also spell out what sort of behaviors your firm wants you to avoid in the public-online realm.

Additionally, you can simply use common sense to determine if your law firm is watching you online.

If one or more partners start following your social media accounts, there’s a good chance they’re there for more than your ice bucket challenge.

While it may not seem fair that your law firm can keep an eye on your social media accounts, the reality is that they are probably doing so right now. Consequently, it’s a good idea to keep your accounts private and post with common sense.

For more guidance on what to avoid on your social media accounts, check out this article.


  • Jennifer Anderson

    Jennifer Anderson is the founder of Attorney To Author, where she helps legal professionals bring their book projects to life. She was a California attorney for nearly two decades before becoming a freelance writer, marketing/branding consultant, ghostwriter, and writing coach. Her upcoming book, Breaking Out of Writer's Block, Exercises and inspirations for getting the words out of your head and onto the page, is due out in September 2023.

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