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LinkedIn concerns resolved

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LinkedIn concerns resolved

Company agrees to change headings that conflict with advertising rules

An advisory opinion to guide lawyers using the LinkedIn business networking site won’t be necessary because of changes the site has made, the Standing Committee on Advertising decided at its March 11 meeting.

The committee had requested, and the Board of Governors in January approved, preparing an advisory opinion.

Adam Schwartz Committee Chair Adam Schwartz said conversations with LinkedIn officials were “cordial” and the company appeared sympathetic to the Bar’s concerns.

The Bar had concerns that when law firms or lawyers listed their areas of practices, those showed up under a heading of “Specialties” and also that endorsements from clients and other attorneys were listed under a heading of “Skills and Expertise.”

Under Bar rules, only lawyers who are board certified can claim to be experts or that they specialize in an area. In addition, that privilege attaches only to the lawyer, not his or her law firm. And the use of “expertise,” “specialize,” and their derivatives can only be used for areas of law in which there is board certification.

Schwartz said LinkedIn officials reported they have changed those headings substituting words that don’t cause problems under Bar rules. Lawyers who have an existing LinkedIn page that uses those terms can change that wording.

“We’re not the only state bar with concerns about LinkedIn,” Schwartz said. “They (LinkedIn) realize that attorneys are very important to their website. I don’t think the Bar is hostile to attorneys on social media; it’s that we’re trying to figure out how this new area complies with our rules.”

The committee’s decision not to issue an opinion came after members discussed LinkedIn with two lawyers who were among several who signed a letter to the Bar advocating that lawyers should be allowed to use LinkedIn.

“I think our group approaches social media from a perspective that it’s a good way to do a number of things,” said Tampa attorney Jacob Cremer, adding that existing Bar rules don’t exactly fit with social media. “It disseminates advertising to the public and monitors information in real time. We would submit that those benefits and those attributes of social media. . . are, from the big picture standpoint, what makes social media a lot more similar to person-to-person conversations than traditional advertising.

“It even sets it apart from websites. You end up with speech that is a lot of ways in a lot of cases part private and part commercial. Just like everyday speech with attorneys, it becomes hard to separate where that dividing line is.”

The committee was scheduled to discuss a related issue on the restriction that only certified lawyers use the terms “expert” and “specialist,” but it postponed that discussion until its April 8 meeting.

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