An expert in social media law and legal ethics, Miami lawyer Ethan Wall speaks with host Carl Morrison about this hot and quickly developing practice area. Wall recognized the importance of social media to legal practice early on. He shares how he has developed his firm centered around four core areas: compliance, intellectual property, the unique aspects of internet law (think influencer law), and corporate law. Once considered the Wild West of the web, Wall discusses the developing bodies of regulatory, statutory, and legal ethics guidelines governing all aspects of social media communications.
Wall’s tips for lawyers and paralegals:
- Presume everything you do and say on social media is governed by legal ethics rules.
- Know and follow the rules.
- If you don’t know the rules, ask for help.
Ethan Wall is the founder of The Social Media Law Firm and of Social Media Law and Order. He is currently traveling across the United States, living his life in the moment while maintaining his practice in Florida.
Special thanks to our sponsors, NALA, ServeNow, CourtFiling.net and Legalinc.
The Paralegal Voice
Eyes Wide Open Social Media Law & Legal Ethics
Carl Morrison: Hello everyone. Welcome to a special episode of The Paralegal Voice here on the Legal Talk Network. I am Carl Morrison, a certified paralegal devoted to law and your host to The Paralegal Voice. I am not only a certified paralegal and paralegal educator, and I’m devoted to not only the paralegal profession, but to all legal professionals, from legal support professionals to paralegals to those whom we support, attorneys. I’m devoted to helping others enhance their passion and dedication for the paralegal profession through entertaining and engaging interviews.
Before we begin, we would like to thank our sponsor, NALA. NALA is a professional association for paralegals providing continuing education, voluntary certification and professional development programs. NALA has been a sponsor of The Paralegal Voice since our very first show. In CourtFiling.net, e-file court documents with ease in California, Illinois, Indiana and Texas. To learn more, visit CourtFiling.net to take advantage of a free 30-day trial and ServeNow, a nationwide network of trusted prescreened process servers. Work with the most professional process servers who have experience with high-volume serves, who embrace technology, and understand the litigation process. Visit serve-now.com to learn more.
And of course, finally, Legalinc. Legalinc makes it easy for paralegals to digitally automate tasks like business formations, corporate filings and registered agent services nationwide. Visit legalinc.com/podcast today to create your free account.
The goal of The Paralegal Voice is to discuss a wide range of topics important to the paralegal industry and share with you leading trends, significant developments and resources you’ll find helpful in your career and everyday job. You know, long time listeners know that my guests, they’re always going to be engaging, informational and I always have to have that little bit of fun thrown in there today.
So today, what can I say about my guest? A lot. He’s an attorney, a consultant, he’s a keynote speaker, he’s a professor, he’s written, he’s an author, he’s a CrossFit guru, he’s the expert upon experts in social media law. And I could spend the whole show really sharing with you guys his accolades and recognitions he’s received, he’s amazing. But I’m going to let him tell you all a little bit about himself. So welcome to The Paralegal Voice, Ethan Wall.
Ethan Wall: Thanks so much, Carl.
Carl Morrison: Really glad to have you, really excited about our topic today because we’re really going to be focusing in on today’s podcast about social media law. And so, Ethan, I’m just going to dive right into it. I got to know and I want the listeners to know how did you even really get involved in that special niche practice area of social media law? How did that come about? What was it about that area that hooked you?
Ethan Wall: Yeah. About eight years ago, I was working with seven other attorneys from across the world to do a legal research project on something that was impacting the legal community and I advocated that we focus on social media. And we interviewed over 400 law firms from around the world to figure out how social media is affecting their practice, how do they use it in their practice. And we got all this wonderful data that we decided to write a book called, The Social Media Guide for Lawyers. And when I started speaking on that topic, I realized that attorneys, businesses, clients had so many questions but there was no one out there to give them the answers. Meaning, there was no attorney in the world that was focusing on the effect of social media on the law or on social media law. And I realized I can A, follow in someone else’s path and focus on things like intellectual property, where people had literally wrote the book on the subject or B, I could step out into the great unknown, try to be a pioneer and be the first attorney in the world to focus on this area. And since then, I’ve now authored seven books, have a class, founded the world’s first social media law firm. I love just having my finger on the pulse of what’s new, exciting and ever-changing and that’s how I got into social media law.
Carl Morrison: It’s funny that you mentioned, it’s like — when you’re talking about social media law, it’s like the Wild Wild West basically. It’s the open horizons on what we’re dealing with. And so, I kind of want to look first at the concept or really the definition of social media law sort of from the 30,000-foot view. When we talk about social media law in the broadest sense of the term, what do we mean when we say it? What is social media law?
Ethan Wall: Yeah, it’s a great question, Carl. Because when you think of criminal law or family law, things immediately come to mind. But when it comes to social media law, this is something that people really haven’t seen before. When our founding fathers sat around to write the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, Facebook and MySpace and even TikTok didn’t exist. And so, I like to frame social media law from a 30,000-foot level in two ways.
First, it’s everywhere where social media and the law intersect, whether it’s aspects of employment law, contract law and intellectual property. All of those areas are encompassed within social media law. And second. there are new laws all the time that are created specifically to address social media legal issues. Things such as whether or not employers can demand or request an applicant to turn over their social media profiles. About 35 states now have laws on that subject as well. So at the social media law firm, we generally break social media law down into four topics. One of them is compliance. How can companies comply with various laws, such as the banking industry or the health care industry when using social media? Second is intellectual property. How can you protect trademarks, copyrights and other creative works through these online forums? Third is unique aspects of internet law, such as influencer law, online contests and sweepstakes, and website terms and conditions. And finally, fourth is what we call corporate law. Meaning, how does business law like contracts or setting up corporations apply specifically to the social media realm?
Carl Morrison: It’s funny, the one area that you talked about, intellectual property. I work in-house in a large corporation. And one of the joys that I get to do is to monitor Facebook feeds and other social media channels when companies and individuals are using our brand, respect to the photographs or things of that nature, copyrighted material. And I get the lovely job of sending that cease and desist letter to get them to stop, because they’re using a copyrighted photograph that’s our brand, our image, our information. I never really thought about it when — because I’ve been doing this for 27 years and I’ve never really thought about it until I started working in-house. And it’s amazing how many different areas really when you’re talking about social media law it touches.
Ethan Wall: Yeah, it really does touch a wide range of spectrums. There are many law firms out there that will specifically have social media divisions within their firms, that have some people from intellectual property, some from employment some from licensing to be able to encompass that entire area. And I’m sure that as we continue to practice and as social media continues to grow, the areas of social media law will expand. But as you mentioned, intellectual property is one of the most interesting subjects to me, because social media really has changed the way that you would have to identify, locate and deal with infringers.
Seven years ago, eight years ago, if someone wanted to steal one of your clients’ products or copyright a material or create a competing brand using your name, you could probably find them and when you did, you can know who they are and you can write them a letter and you can send it to a mailbox to a real human being that was likely going to read it. But now, if I’ve got five minutes, an email address, I can set up a Facebook account, infringe on your copyrights or your trademarks and trying to find me and actually get a hold of me and stop me is becoming incredibly difficult in today’s day and age. So it really is something that is its own — people joke and say, the constitution is a living, breathing document, even though the thing is hundreds of years old. locked up in a museum somewhere.
But social media really is a living, breathing area of law that’s changing all the time because social media and technology is changing all the time, and the law is doing its best to try to catch up. And my job is to be able to help to predict what are the risks going to be and how are the existing laws going to apply to these new technologies to be able to provide people proactive solutions on how to protect things like their intellectual property before there is a problem. And we got to pick up the phone, call Carl and have Carl go find these people and track them down and stop them.
Carl Morrison: And it’s funny, that’s a challenge. Even tracking down the infringer and issuing that cease and desist, it can become a big challenge because you’re going, “Well, now, they got to respond and if they don’t and you know so on and so forth.” You and I could really have a whole show just on copyrights and intellectual property and social media laws.
So as a legal professional such as myself, why should I worry about the legal ramifications, and when we’re talking about social media, why should I be concerned? Yeah, it’s the big great unknown when we talk about social media. So, whatever, why should I be concerned you?
Ethan Wall: You should be concerned because everyone’s on social media these days. You, me, The Paralegal Voice, my mom, everyone uses social media in some form or another, including your clients, your witnesses, your opposing parties.
And they’re either using social media in a way that’s connected to their business that can have some effect on your practice of law or your cases. Or their employees can be using social media in their personal time in a way that’s going to have an impact on your cases and on your firm’s bottom line. So regardless of whether you think social media is important or you want social media to be a part of your life or not, it doesn’t matter. Ray Dalio, one of my heroes, the founder of Bridgewater and the author of Principles tells us to embrace reality and deal with it. And the reality is that social media is here, it’s not going away, it’s only growing.
And during this pandemic, social media uses increased by 25% across the board. And so now more than ever, if you’re not focused on how social media is affecting your firm or affecting your cases, you really are going to miss the boat. And that could create some major problems for both your firm and yourself as we continue to evolve in this new technology-based legal community.
Carl Morrison: It’s funny that you even mentioned that because that’s something that I’ve been singing from the rafters since most states went into the lockdown mode two three months ago. And I’ve been singing from the rafters that we are living. When we talk about the legal industry, we are living in a historic period because law and the legal industry has a tendency to be slow on the uptake when it comes to technology and embracing it and using it. And now we’ve been thrust into having to use it. We’re having to use Zoom, we’re having to use the different types of chat box out there and things of that nature. And yeah, you’re right. Now more than ever, it’s vitally important to stay on top of the legal ramifications when we’re talking about social media law. Because now, we’re not going to go backwards, we’re only going to get greater use out of the resources that are out there I think in the legal industry.
Ethan Wall: Yeah, definitely. This is the 50,000-pound elephant in the room that’s not going away. So if you’ve been doing your best to ignore it up until this point, I don’t think you could ignore it anymore.
Carl Morrison: Yeah, absolutely, I agree. A minute ago you said and mentioned you having the finger on the pulse when we’re talking about social media, and more importantly of course, social media law. What do you see legal professionals doing that they shouldn’t be doing on social media? What are some of the biggest violations that you’re seeing being committed online in the legal industry in legal professionals?
Ethan Wall: Yeah. Some of the biggest problems that the legal industry is facing is, people don’t think twice before they post things on social media. I would always joke that when I would walk into my old managing partner’s office back when I was practicing with a wonderful law firm down in South Florida, they would always say, “Look you have to think twice before you put something in an email,” because I grew up in a generation where you would write things in letters and people would never say the types of things in letters that they’re doing in an email. Now, people don’t even think once before posting something on their social media profile. They could be venting about opposing counsel, a judge or a client, and they don’t think about the ramifications. Because the legal ethics rules apply equally to someone’s personal social media profiles than what they would put on the radio, in a billboard or in a confidential client communication.
And so one of the biggest things I see, is because social media is so conversational, it’s so social and it’s so accessible because we can literally pick up the phone and communicate with people that people aren’t taking it as seriously as they are. and it can create problems both for their firms ethically but also for their professional reputation as well. Because our identity as an individual and our identity as a lawyer or a paralegal is inseparable these days. Meaning. what people see on your personal profile is going to have an impact on you, can have an impact on your career, and can have an impact on your law firm as well.
Carl Morrison: You bring up a really great topic, because this is something I always incorporate when I teach a new semester of new paralegal students. And one of the things I always start within the first couple of weeks of the semester, I always tell paralegal students, “You need to look at your social media and how and what you are putting out there. Because not only from a potential employer standpoint, they’re looking just to see when you’re applying at places, it’s also when you get out there and you’re practicing and you’re working, talking bad about your employer, talking about your client.
All these different things that you don’t think about.” Because I think when we’re talking about social media, people have a tendency to think, “Well, I’m behind the screen.” Meaning, I can say whatever I want to because it’s just me and no one’s listening. Unfortunately, that’s not true, everybody’s listening when you put it out there on social media. So you bring up a great issue. Again, another show we could do is about what you’re putting out there on social media.
Ethan Wall: Yeah. It used to be the old adage, “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” But now it’s, “What happens on social media stays on social media” and it’s there forever. We see all the time things in the news about celebrities that make a mistake and post something on social media in a fit of anger or a fit of rage or are just trying to be funny without thinking it through and it has a major impact on their career. From a public relations standpoint, people have been dropped off of television, kicked off the PGA tour, politicians have even resigned based upon things they’ve said online. And the nature of social media, people follow you and people see this. And even if you delete something, it’s going to be there forever.
And so it doesn’t mean don’t use social media because I think in today’s day and age, we have to use it in some form or another because otherwise, people are suspicious if they can’t find you online.
Carl Morrison: Right.
Ethan Wall: They’re thinking, “What are you? A Hermit living under the ground. You want some crazy island out there like in the animal crossing video game that all these kids are playing. Like., how are you not on social media? So I think you have to have some presence or another, but you really have to understand the impact that it’s going to have on your personal and professional life. Because it just doesn’t go away absolutely.
Carl Morrison: Absolutely. If you were going to give maybe three, four tips and tricks to a legal professional, to a paralegal on avoiding those ethical pitfalls that you can fall into online, what would be your top three or four tips and tricks that you would give to someone like myself?
Ethan Wall: Yeah. First tip is, presume that everything you say and do on social media is governed by the legal ethics rules. Some people believe that if they have a personal profile where they’re just connecting with family and friends and it’s a private profile, that it’s not governed by the rules and it’s simply not the case, Well, there are some exceptions such as in Florida. They carve out limited exceptions for truly personal profiles and truly personal activities. That’s really the exception to the rule. So the first thing is to presume that everything you say or do is going to be governed by the rules and so we should act in a way that ensures everything is above board and ethically compliant.
The second thing is to know and follow the rules. Meaning, you can’t be, I don’t know if it’s a flamingo or what the animal is, where you bury your head in the sand?
Carl Morrison: Right, an ostrich.
Ethan Wall: An ostrich, that’s what it is. Flamingos are the ones eating shrimp and turning all pink and whatnot. Both birds with long necks, so you have to forgive me. I haven’t had my coffee yet. But you can’t stick your head in the sand just like you can’t claim ignorance under the law saying, “Hey, ignorance was a defense because I didn’t know it was illegal to run my pickup truck through a storefront of someone that left me an online negative review.” You also can’t claim ignorance to the ethical rules. So you have to educate yourself by staying up to date on what are the new ethics opinions that are coming out that apply these existing ethical rules to these new technologies, so that you can empower yourself and your colleagues to stay above board.
Finally, the third piece of advice I have is, if you don’t know don’t be afraid to ask questions or ask for help. Attorneys, paralegals, we often feel like we wear a coat of armor where we always have to have all the answers all the time. That’s simply not the case. If someone picked up the phone, if I had a family member say, “Ethan, I got pulled over for a traffic ticket. Can you help me?” First thing I would say is no, I have no idea, the first place to start. But if it was someone I truly cared about, I wouldn’t feel shamed asking for help because that’s not an area that I focus on. And if social media isn’t in an area that you focus on, that’s okay too. Not everyone can be an expert in everything. And so, whether it is calling your local bar association. like the Florida bar for example has a anonymous ethics helpline. Whether it’s talking to a more social media savvy colleague, like one of your paralegals, who I know is going to be incredibly plugged in to social media new technologies or whether it’s calling, oh, I don’t know, a social media legal expert like Ethan Wall, I’m not sure. You may have someone in your network as well, but it’s okay to ask for help.
So those are really my three tips to being able to staying out of trouble and navigating it. Presume your social media profiles, content and communications must comply with the rules. Two, no one understand the rules so you can stay on top of the law. And three, don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Carl Morrison: I love students. I always tell students when they first start in the semester, another thing I always beat into their head is, “You’re going to walk out of this class–” and it’s an intro to paralegal, intro to law type class. I always tell them, “When you walk out of this class, you’re going to know the ethics pretty well before you even get into the rest of the program.” Because ethics are so vitally important, so vitally important. And I love to hear that that’s your number one, is understanding the ethical rules as it applies to social media, and your own personal social media and to you know adhere to those same ethical rules, even in your own private Facebook page or whatever the case might be. I love it, absolutely love it. It makes my heart sing. So Ethan, thank you for that.
Ethan Wall: I love that you love it, Carl.
Carl Morrison: Let’s take a short commercial break, so don’t turn that dial. This episode of The Paralegal Voice is brought to you by CourtFiling.net, your solution for electronic filing in California, Illinois, Indiana and Texas. CourtFiling.net provides a better e-filing experience so you can spend more time helping clients, because they know that work sometimes happens after hours. CourtFiling.net offers 24/7 phone, email, and chat support. Visit CourtFiling.net to receive 30 days of unlimited free electronic filings and see how you too can e-file court documents with ease.
NALA members receive exclusive content such as the paralegal utilization and compensation survey report, access to members-only collaboration site, discounts on office products and car rental, access and preferred placement on a web platform for paralegal contract jobs and access to the member-only career center. NALA members also receive discounted education and products. Join NALA today and become a part of our community. Learn more at nala.org.
Welcome back to The Paralegal Voice. I’m Carl Morrison. My guest today is Ethan Wall, social media law expert. Ethan and I before the commercial, we were discussing in general social media and some of the ethical pitfalls that can happen to legal professionals such as ourselves. But you know, my background has been in litigation defense for many, many years. I’ve seen and witnessed the advent of social media. And litigators, we found a myriad of uses when it came to social media and using that to discover the opponent’s social media information, stuff that we could use in our particular case. So from an ethical standpoint, Ethan, what are some of the issues a legal professional attorney, a paralegal should be concerned with regarding social media discovery and investigation of whether it be an individual or even a company’s social media accounts?
Ethan Wall: Well, there’s no doubt about it, social media is a virtual treasure chest of discoverable information that we can use in our cases and even about our clients as well. And so it’s almost necessary in today’s day and age that we search social media thoroughly and comprehensively to uncover. understand and collect the evidence that’s going to help us in our cases. With that said, just like everything else in the law, there are boundaries. And if we cross over these boundaries, whether intentionally or even accidentally, they can have serious consequences. So just like a pirate who is digging for buried treasure has to avoid the kraken in the ocean or some booby traps that are set up around that treasure they want to have, we as lawyers need to avoid and as paralegals who may be primarily conducting these investigations need to understand and know these risks so we can avoid them as well.
What is one of the biggest risks that are out there that we see, and that is the risk in creating fake profiles. So there is an ABA rule, which is Rule 8.4, which most states have a very similar rule which governs misconduct. And in a nutshell, it says that we can’t use deception in how we carry out our cases or how we communicate with people to collect evidence. And so often what happens is, an attorney or a paralegal doesn’t want to use their own profile to try to send someone a friend request to be able to obtain the information because they know that person is too smart to accept that friend request from their opposing party’s lawyer or paralegal to give up some of that smoking gun evidence.
So instead, we are inclined to create a fake profilef of Jay Smithers or perhaps using a photograph of an attractive Instagram model, male or female, meaning something more likely to gain access to that person’s profile. And in doing so, we really violate two of those rules. One is going to be the rule against misconduct because you can’t create fake profiles to deceive somebody. And two, you also violate rule 4-4.3, which is truthfulness and statements to others. Meaning by not disclosing who you are, not disclosing the purpose of the friend request, you might be withholding information that would be relevant to whether or not that person should accept your friend request or turn over that information.
And so, one of the major pitfalls these days is in our zealous attempt to be a terrific advocate for our client to get the evidence we need. Sometimes we unknowingly step a little bit too far and get ourselves and our firms in a big ethical quandary that can have more serious consequences than not locating that evidence in the first place.
Carl Morrison: That’s a great point because I’ve witnessed it firsthand when others around me not particularly in firms I’ve worked at or companies I’ve worked at, but other legal professionals, whether it be a paralegal or an attorney violate those rules. And you’re going, “What? You did what? I can’t — wow!” That overzealous attempt to help your clients can get you mired in a whole ethical battle and situation that you shouldn’t have even opened the door and gotten yourself into to begin with. Which kind of brings me to my next question and I kind of know the answer, so I’m going to spin it a little bit different now. And it sounds like a strange question. But for these newly minted attorneys and paralegals that maybe listening to the show and that are out there. And you’re talking about the model rules, the professional responsibility. Especially the more inexperienced individuals, they think those rules apply to everything else within the framework of legal representation, but social media. Because social media seems to be a little bit of the Wild Wild West. So there doesn’t seem to be a lot of “law” on there, but it is.
And my question really is, do those same rules apply to social media? I think I know what the answer is going to be to that.
Ethan Wall: Yes, they definitely do. And the question really isn’t whether the rules apply to social media but how the rules apply to social media. And that’s what has been shaping up in the Wild Wild West as of late. Carl, if you and I had this podcast about three or four years ago, I would say, “This is the Wild Wild West. There are tumbleweeds that are blowing in the legal ethics landscape and it’s up to us to be able to predict how the rules are going to apply to our social media activity.” Now it’s not so much the case. Now we have some signposts that are planted in the ground that might not cover all the ethical issues, but they do cover. And they cover enough for us to be able to have guidance.
And so, even if our jurisdiction, like me in Florida, it doesn’t have a specific ethics rule that governs how, let’s say improper ethical solicitations apply to social media, another state like California, New York or Oregon might. And so we need to start looking for these clues to try to figure out how to navigate the Wild Wild West. Because at the end of the day, the ethics rules govern the message not the medium. And therefore, it governs your behavior in how you do things regardless of whether you do that behavior in person or online, the rules are going to govern nonetheless. The question is just, how do the rules apply based upon the nuances of these different types of social media technology?
And that actually brings up another point, because when you and I talk about social media, we’re talking about it as if it is a thing or the same thing but you and I both know that Twitter is different from Instagram, it’s different from Facebook, it’s different from YouTube. And so it’s important for us not only to understand how the rules apply to social media, but how does it apply to the specific social media platform that you are using in your cases to accomplish a particular objective.
Carl Morrison: Let me ask you this, Ethan. With your crystal ball in front of you, do you foresee states ethics rules actually memorializing specific rules when it comes to social media? Or is it going to be just the ethics opinions within the specific rules that are just going to be there to guide us legal professionals?
Ethan Wall: Yeah, if I had hat crystal ball, I’d probably be using it to pick out the next powerball lottery numbers. All I can say is, just like a lawyer, I can look to precedent to try to predict what’s going to happen in the future. And I don’t think that there are any specific ethics rules that relate to social media yet. And the reason is, because technology advances so much faster than the law can adapt. And therefore, by the time a new ethics rule is created that applies specifically to social media, that technology is not even being used anymore.
Ethan Wall: Right.
Carl Morrison: When you think about the process of what it comes to create an ethics rule, it moves at a sloth pace. Lawyers in terms of vessels are the giant cruise liners — or not the cruise liners, the giant ocean liners that have boats on top of boats that take forever to kind of shift and turn. And so normally, there has to be some big problem that has happened for a long enough time to get on a radar screen, then there’s a committee that would suggest a rule. Then it goes through a billion committees to be able to revise the rule. Then the rules got to be approved, then it’s going to be implemented. And by the time that process occurs, you’re talking at least a year. If not, several months at its absolute fastest. And by that time, technology has advanced much faster than the law has been able to adapt.
So that’s why I think that in the past we haven’t seen specific ethics rules created for social media. That’s why I also see that it I don’t see an overwhelming trend of new social media specific ethics rules being applied across our jurisdictions. Instead, I do think that as more ethical opinions become created that address these issues across different types of states, we do start to see other states fall in line and start to have trends. And that these trends where they picked up either in those ethics’ opinions or perhaps in the comments to the rules themselves that explain how that particular situation might apply to that specific ethics rule.
Ethan Wall: And you bring a great point. This is what again telling and teaching to students is that, it’s not just the rules that you got to look at the hard and fast ethical rules, you got to look at the opinions as well. And that’s what will help guide you on a lot of the “Am I skating close to violating an ethical rule?” I always say there’s 900 — it’s not black and white when we talk about ethics, it is 957 shades of gray. There’s all this in between on whether you’re going to violate or not violate an ethical rule. And those opinions help guide you as a legal professional to keep from violating those particular rules. So I agree with you. I don’t think we’re going to see hard and fast rules specific to social media, but I think your opinions is what’s really going to guide you out there.
Carl Morrison: What about rules that, when we talk about the ethical rules, what about the rules that reference a lawyer’s responsibility to supervise his or her staff, paralegals, legal support professionals, consultants? Does that particular, does that still apply to their employees’ social media accounts? Would you say the line between personal privacy and appropriate supervision is being blurred when we’re talking about this rule?
Ethan Wall: Well, there’s definitely a blurred line, but there’s two important things to take away from this question. The first thing is that, yes, lawyers are responsible for the actions of their agents. And therefore, if a lawyer delegates to a paralegal or even to any other third party, like an investigator to conduct a social media investigation online. And our paralegal was not up to speed on the ethics rules and creates a fake profile to get evidence, the attorney will be held responsible for the actions of their agents in that sphere. And so just like, unfairly, the attorney often gets credit for when the paralegal finds a smoking gun evidence, when we know it’s our paralegals that are the ones that are finding it for us. At the same time, the attorney is also responsible for those specific actions as it connects to our cases.
But pivoting that a little bit to more directly address your question, which is, do the actions of our agents on their personal social media platforms in their personal time also have an impact on our law firm?
And does that require us to be extra vigilant to watch our teammates’ social media like a hawk to make sure that they’re doing everything above board. And that’s where the line becomes blurred, but there has to be more flexibility in the process. And what I mean by that is, we are all responsible for our own actions. If I post defamatory. offensive, vulgar, obscene, inappropriate things on my social media profile, it’s going to be a poor reflection on me. It’s going to be a poor reflection on the firm and ultimately that’s going to affect my professional reputation. It might affect my ability to continue maintaining a job of where I work or finding a new job in the future. On the other hand, I don’t see it as a common practice to where law firms are watching their employees’, associates’, paralegals’ and staff members’ social media profiles to make sure that every single thing they’re doing is above board. At the end of the day, you have to have some level of trust.
And that same framework exists within the legal ethics system. Meaning, the legal ethics rules are designed to be a sandbox within which we can play in. It gives us the boundaries of what we can or can’t do. And so, we are then able to operate and play within the sandbox in a way that is without constant supervision as to what we’re doing. But the moment that we step over the line and go outside the boundaries of those sandbox, we expose ourselves to risk. And I think the same thing happens with managing our employees, our associates, our paralegals and our team members on their personal social media profiles. Meaning, we have the ethics rules. They are what they are. Our firms have their own expectations about how we want to behave in a way that is authentic to our firms. Some firms are more conservative and buttoned up, some are not. Look, the social media law firm is taking this podcast with you in their pajamas. They don’t wear suits and ties.
So ours a little bit different, but at the same vein, we also teach ethics. And we have to make sure that while we are authentic to ourselves and while our team has the trust to be able to behave in the way that they are, we are held to the same high ethical standards as everyone else. And in fact, people are going to be watching us like a hawk to see how are we behaving to be examples under those rules. And so I think that we have to trust our teammates, we have to trust our employees that they’re going to play well within the sandbox. But if they don’t. we do have to take some sort of either proactive measures to prevent that from happening or some corrective measures in the event that someone accidentally extends over those boundaries because we are ultimately going to be responsible for that behavior and we want to make sure that we don’t take on unreasonable risk in our personal social media use for ourselves, our firms and our teammates.
Carl Morrison: I was going to bring up that very point, you said the magic work, risk. It’s up to the — not only the employee, the paralegal, the support professional, so on and so forth. But it’s also up to the supervising manager, the attorney. whatever the case might be to not sit there and big brother watch their employees’ social media, but be very mindful because you’re taking the risk assessment, you’re assessing the risk of, have I got an employee that tends to be more rogue and say things that can poorly reflect on the company, skating on the edge of ethical violations, so on and so forth. So risk is a huge part of that.
Ethan Wall: And we all have to decide for ourselves how much risk we’re willing to take. During this pandemic right now, it’s a perfect example. I could stay in this apartment, never leave for the next six months and my risk is going to be very low. But I’m also not going to get any reward of being outside, interacting with other people, getting sunshine and exercise. And I have to be able to assess my risk. And I believe that there are acceptable risks and unacceptable risks. So I may risk going out for a walk, I may risk going to exercise but I’m not likely going to enter into a mosh pit with a bunch of other people. And I think the same thing works with the legal ethics rules is, if you don’t go on social media at all, you’re never going to have any social media risks. But you’re also not going to experience any of those social media rewards, and we really are missing the boat because we have to know and understand how social media applies to our cases and how we can use it to help to advance our goals. And so we all have that online of what we believe is acceptable versus unacceptable risk.
And we can all agree that violating the ethical rules is an unacceptable risk, but anything shy of that is kind of up to ourselves and our firms based upon our values, our goals and how we want to be able to live our lives in a way that has some degree of risk but without entering into unacceptable levels of risk.
Carl Morrison: Ethan, you and I, I’m telling you. I could do 17 different podcasts with you on this topic. There’s so much to cover and it looks like we’re running out of time. So I got to have my fun final question to ask you. So I’ve followed you on Instagram and online, and I saw you when you packed up, took off on a cross-country tour for a couple of months. I have to say, I was so envious of what you did. I’m just like, “I got to do that same thing.” But I got to ask you, on your tour when you were doing this, what was the highlight of your trip and what was the thing that you liked least about doing on that trip?
Ethan Wall: Sure. Well, to be honest, that trip is still ongoing. I’m talking to you from St. George, Utah and that trip is actually a lifestyle. I sold everything I own. I travel full-time, I run the firm virtually while my office is based out of Miami, where my paralegals and my team is based. And that’s a lifestyle that I’ve chose for me. What I love most about this lifestyle, is that I get to make the most out of life and experience what is life like in different places. I’ve been able to live in the mountains of Colorado, the beaches of San Diego, the desert of Santa Fe, New Mexico and the hipstery funky vibe of Austin, Texas all within a four-month period of time. And not many people are going to have the ability to have that type of life and be able to experience those things. So for me, being able to make the most out of life and have those experiences is invaluable and I love it. On the other hand, there’s some downsides to it.
During the pandemic itself, I got “stuck” in Santa Fe, New Mexico for about two and a half months. And well, it was great to be stuck in a place that had a lot of nature, I was disconnected from family, friends and the things that I love and need, like a gym and some social interaction and to be able to connect with other people. So I do experience from time to time loneliness on the road or just when I go make a great bunch of new friends, it’s time for me to pack my bags and move on somewhere else.
So just like in life, this journey has highs and lows, but it’s the journey that I want for my life. And I wouldn’t have traded it for a thing. So to me at the end of the day, our time in life is short, we don’t know how much time we have. So we have to make the most of our time and fill it doing the things that we love. And this is what I love with my life and this is how I have enjoyed spending my time with you, talking about social media and social media law. And I agree with you, we could talk about this stuff for days, but I’m sure our listeners are ready for a break from me at least. And I’ve really enjoyed this opportunity and enjoyed this time.
Carl Morrison: Well, thank you so much. And again, I have sat there and analyzed my own life in the way of, can I get rid of everything and pack up and work virtually and just travel the country? Because I’ve seen a lot of the country, but there’s a lot of the country I haven’t seen, and I’m very envious of that. But I try to live my life very similar to you, and that you don’t know how much time you have on this planet, and life is precious and life is short and you have to do what makes you happy and enjoy the moments that are given to you.
So Ethan, thank you so much for being the guest on today’s show. I’ve really enjoyed and I hope our listeners also enjoyed, I know they will, our conversation about social media law and ethical pitfalls. If anyone wanted to get in touch with you, how would they do that since you’re on the road all the time, but you’re connected virtually. They don’t have to send a smoke signal. How do they get in touch with you?
Ethan Wall: Yeah, that signal is not going to have too much range out here in the desert. They can do one of two things. You could visit the socialmedialawfirm.com and reach out to the website or you could do exactly what you did carl, we were setting up our website today. You can find me on your favorite social media platform, whether it’s Instagram, LinkedIn or Facebook by searching for Ethan Wall. I’ll be the guy with the ugly mug with the beard in case there are some other Ethan Walls that are handsome out there. If you want to follow my personal journey around the world, Instagram would be a great place to go. And if you want to follow a mix of my travels, but also some of the fun social media law topics that I love talking about, LinkedIn would be a great place to follow along.
Carl Morrison: Ethan, thank you so much. Really, truly appreciate it. That’s all the time we have for today’s podcast. Be sure and tune in to next month’s episode and stay tuned for paralegal news and announcements. We’ll be right back.
Looking for a process server you can trust, ServeNow.com is a nationwide network of local pre-screened process servers. ServeNow works with the most professional process servers in the industry, connecting your firm with process servers who embrace technology, have experience with high volume serves and understand that the litigation process and rules of properly effectuating service. Find a pre-screened process server today visit www.serve-now.com.
Today’s episode is brought to you by Legalinc. Legalinc is empowering paralegals to embrace their inner legal rock star by automating the everyday tasks that hold them back. Through their free dashboard solution, paralegals can quickly and easily automate services like business formations, corporate filings, registered agent services and more. Visit legalinc.com to create a free account and check out the legalinc.com/podcast for a chance to win legal rock star swag.
Welcome back. And finally, we come to that segment called the Listener’s Voice. This s an opportunity for you as a listener to send me an email with any of your questions, your career celebrations, anything you want to talk about. And I go through them and I read them on the air. So if there’s a particular topic you want to send me that you’ve got a question for or maybe a prior guest. You got a question for Ethan Wall that you want me to get to him and get an answer back, hey, send it to me. We want you to make your voice, the listener’s voice known and heard. So send me your email. You can send that to [email protected]. And today’s mailbag question is really not so much a question, but how much the listeners enjoying the show.
So this particular listener is from the Sunshine State of sunny Florida, and this individual writes, “Hi, Carl. Just dropping a note to mention that I really love the podcast. I’m a paralegal student in Jacksonville, Florida. Currently taking an online course that leads and prepares for the NALA certification test. Dually, I have enrolled for two-year degree in paralegal studies at my community college. My ultimate goal is to be a registered paralegal in the state of Florida, and obviously to be a valuable asset to the right law firm. Your show is a great resource for students to absorb the profession fully. Thanks for all you do to promote the field. Sincerely, future Florida certified paralegal.”
Well, thank you future Florida. I’m so glad that you are enjoying the show and this
goes not to just you but all the listeners that may send me little comments about how
much you just enjoy the show and get a lot from it. And remember, everyone, this is your show so send me your comments, send me your questions, anything that you’d like to hear me talk about or maybe interview about. I want to do this for you. This is your show and I love to hear from you guys. I love to hear that you’re getting something from it. Like this individual, they said that it’s a great resource for students to absorb the profession fully. And that warms my heart because I’m hoping to impart to listeners just a little bit of the passion that I have because I have a bunch of passion for the legal industry and specifically the paralegal profession. And so, if I can just instill in each one of you just a little spark of that same flame for the paralegal profession, then I feel like I’ve done my job. And to hear you guys say that you love the show and it’s a great resource, it makes me smile, it makes my heart smile. So thank you so much, I really appreciate it. And so, that’s all that I’ve got for today’s show. And no other questions.
Again, if you have any questions, send them to [email protected]. And so, stay tuned for more information in upcoming podcasts for those exciting paralegal trends, the news, engaging in fun interviews. And it’s not just with paralegals, but other leading legal professionals.
Thank you for listening to The Paralegal Voice produced by the broadcast professionals at Legal Talk Network. If you’d like more information about today’s show please visit legaltalknetwork.com and find Legal Talk Network on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn or download Legal Talk Networks free app in Google Play and iTunes. And reminding you that I’m here to enhance your passion and dedication to the paralegal profession and make your paralegal voice heard.
Outro: The views expressed by the participants of this program are their own and do not represent the views of, nor are they endorsed by Legal Talk Network, its officers, directors, employees, agents, representatives, shareholders, or subsidiaries. None of the content should be considered legal advice.
As always, consult a lawyer.