Ethics and Social Media: Can I Connect With a Judge on LinkedIn?

According to the American Bar Association, more than 90 percent of all attorneys have a LinkedIn profile. Attorneys are using LinkedIn for a number of different purposes – primarily for networking, but for sharing information, finding information, finding jobs and even investigating cases as well.

Of course, each of these uses raises its own ethical questions. In an ethics opinion from last year, the North Carolina State Bar (NCSB) addressed one of these questions in particular: Can an attorney connect with a judge on LinkedIn?

Can I Accept a Judge’s Invitation to Connect on LinkedIn?

The North Carolina State Bar says yes, in appropriate circumstances: “In certain scenarios, a lawyer may accept a judge’s dinner invitation. Similarly, in certain scenarios, a lawyer may accept a LinkedIn invitation to connect from a judge.”

Citing Rules 3.5 and 8.4 of the North Carolina Rules of Professional Conduct, the NCSB notes that circumstances where lawyers’ ethical duties may make it impermissible to accept a judge’s LinkedIn invitation include:

  • Where such acceptance would be prejudicial to the administration of justice;
  • Where such acceptance would suggest an ability to exert improper influence;
  • Where such acceptance would involve or lead to ex parte communications regarding a pending legal matter.

So, what if you feel like you should decline a judge’s invitation? Are you required to simply ignore it?

No. The NCSB states that, “[t]he lawyer may communicate to the judge the reason the lawyer did not accept the judge’s invitation,” and that this communication, standing alone, “is not a prohibited ex parte communication.”

Note also that Rule 8.4(f) prohibits lawyers from “knowingly assist[ing]” judges in violating the rules of judicial conduct. As a result, if the judge who sends a lawyer an invitation is prohibited from doing so, the lawyer must decline the invitation even if accepting it would otherwise be permissible.

Can I Send a LinkedIn Invitation to a Judge?

Potentially, yes. The ethics opinion states that attorneys should consider the same factors in both accepting judges’ invitations and sending invitations to members of the judiciary.

What About Endorsements and Recommendations?

While the ethics opinion states that lawyers may provide endorsements and written recommendations for judges to display on their profile pages, lawyers may not publish judges’ accolades on LinkedIn in any form. Citing Rule 8.4(e), the NCSB states that displaying a judge’s endorsement or recommendation “would create the appearance of judicial impartiality and the lawyer must decline.”

What About Other Social Media Platforms?

The NCSB closes the ethics opinion with a statement that the opinion applies equally to all social media platforms that “allow[] public display of connections, endorsement, or recommendations between lawyers and judges.” This would appear to cover most – if not all – platforms, including Facebook, Google+ and Twitter.

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