Just like Robin Thicke and Pharrell, solicitors also hate those blurred lines, particularly when it comes to what constitutes legal advice via social media platforms. The ever-increasing use of social media has brought about new and often unclear ethical challenges for all solicitors with many solicitors at some point in their legal career having that friend, acquaintance or family member message them on a social media platform asking legal or quasi-legal questions. Solicitors should proceed with caution (or not at all) when answering such questions, as this may lead to unintended client engagements and inadvertent retainers.
For example, if a solicitor’s Facebook friend asks a legal question on a solicitor’s Facebook page, any answer posted by the solicitor in response may be construed as legal advice. The solicitor may then become liable for this legal advice and is unlikely to be covered for such advice under their employer’s professional indemnity insurance policy.
Furthermore, if the individual already has legal representation the solicitor may be in breach of the ‘no contact rule’ contained at rule 33 of the Legal Profession Uniform Law Australian Solicitors’ Conduct Rules 2015which prevents a solicitor from directly dealing with the client of another solicitor without that other solicitor’s consent.
The lines are often blurred on whether responses via social media can be construed as legal advice, and whether an inadvertent retainer has been established is determined on a case by case basis. However, there is nothing to prevent a solicitor engaging in general legal discussion though social media channels.
Solicitors should use common sense and discretion as social media can be a powerful marketing tool to create future business opportunities, but it can also be an ethical lawsuit waiting to happen.
Individuals seeking such legal advice via social media platforms should also proceed with caution and consider seeking formal legal advice from a qualified solicitor.