The Ethics Bog of Professional Blogs

We love blogging! Blogs have become an increasingly important part of professional practice.  Writing blog posts allows professionals to increase their social media presence and keep clients informed about recent developments in their respective industries.  At the same time, blogs are an invaluable marketing tool that allows professionals to connect with potential clients and develop new business relationships in a less formal, and more interactive, medium than traditional print publications.  But, bloggers beware. While this new form of interaction can be highly beneficial, professionals should be mindful of the possibility that their blog content may conflict with traditional ethics principles or otherwise alienate clients through unwanted attention.  

Initially, professionals should take steps to ensure that their blogs do not disclose confidential client information or information relating to ongoing legal proceedings.  When developing blog content, professionals routinely come across news articles that discuss a current client.  Often, the connection to the firm may not be immediately apparent.  For instance, a professional drafting the blog post may not personally perform any work for the client and the story may involve a nationally recognized company and an issue of general public interest, such as a product recall or class action lawsuit.  Accordingly, when in doubt, professionals should run a conflict check to ensure that they do not discuss any matter in which the professional firm has a direct interest or further highlight a potentially embarrassing story involving a current client.  Further, even when there is no conflict, professionals should proceed cautiously when discussing any company or business by name.  Doing so could be perceived as a potential breach of confidence and give companies pause before hiring the professional firm.

Likewise, professionals must consider their management of blog commentary.  Comments sections are a popular part of social media in general, and blogs in particular often invite discourse through reader comments.  However, professionals should refrain from using the comments section to give specific professional advice.  For one, the professional might not be qualified to render advice on the particular jurisdiction where the client resides.  Further, giving specific advice could be construed as establishing an unintended professional-client relationship.  When in doubt, a professional may consider using a disclaimer that clearly indicates the intended purpose and use of the response.

In order to ensure compliance with ethics rules and limit the risk of liability, professional firms should implement a clear policy on blogging for their employees.  By identifying potential risks early and having clear rules in place to avoid potential liability, firms can best achieve their goal of expanding market reach, while simultaneously limiting their legal exposure.