I’ve been monitoring some of the Twitter posts that attorneys across the country are doing, and it got me to thinking about where the ethical line is (or should be) drawn.  Now, my good friend Toby Brown told me that a good rule of thumb for judging ethical rules when it comes to the “virtual world” is to think of the question this way:

  • “If it’s ethical with paper, then it’s ethical.”
Simple enough concept on the surface, but once you start getting into the weeds of what some are posting, it sure makes for some interesting “issue spotting.”
Take this Twitter post from an attorney in New Hampshire:

I’m wondering if this type of advertising is:
1.  Legal in New Hampshire? (higher standard)
2.  Ethical in New Hampshire? (lower standard)
3.  Does posting things like this on Twitter expose him to restrictions in other states (since Twitter is obviously not limited to reaching New Hampshire)?
Or, how about a more direct approach to using Twitter to advertise your legal services:
This one seems to be testing the boundaries a little more than Mr. Steven’s previous posting that tells you about his updating his Squidoo page.  The LawyerTweet posting isn’t simply redirecting you to an updated web page, it is actually encouraging you to get some free answers to your legal questions from a licensed attorney.  Going back to Toby’s comment earlier, if this is ethical in a newspaper or legal publication, it is probably ethical here as well.  
I’m still a little hung up on the fact that Twitter is micro-blogging, or in these cases, micro-advertising, in an instant world-wide market.  In print, you usually have a select audience, but with a resource like Twitter, your audience is not as well defined.  If someone from Oklahoma tweets the attorney licensed in California, based on his or her Squidoo or Twitter posting, could this open up the attorney to issues before the Oklahoma Bar??  
It is broad questions like these that make me miss my academic days where I could stand in front of a group of law students and ask questions like these without having to give an answer.