Attorneys across the country are struggling with the balance between staying to the forefront on social media and stepping over ethical boundaries. In the recent case of In re Gamble the Kansas Supreme Court suspended a lawyer for six months for using Facebook to send a private emotional appeal to an unrepresented teen mother. The attorney, Eric Michael Gamble, represented the biological father of a child and hoped that his Facebook message would persuade the young woman to withdraw her consent for adoption. The message contained statements such as the baby “deserves to know that you love her”, she could still “make things right” and that she was making a mistake that “you will live with the rest of your life”. He also knowingly provided false information about the baby’s adoptive parents.
Mr. Gamble knew that the mother was unrepresented and his message contained multiple misstatements of law, as well as misrepresentations of fact. The Court held that his tactics were “bullying” in nature and that his conduct amounted to “emotional blackmail”. Mr. Gamble’s actions were intended to “embarrass, burden and create guilt”. All conduct which adversely reflects on a lawyer’s fitness to practice law.
The social media aspect of this case is not the content of the message. The text of his message would be inappropriate in any form. The problem with social media is that it provides a forum to send correspondence without the usual common sense safeguards. In the days of old, an attorney would dictate a letter, a secretary would type it up, and a good one may even ask if you really think this is a good idea. Either way, the draft would come back and the attorney has a second chance to think his or her way through the issue. Often the offending letter would be rewritten or discarded. In today’s world we can look up someone and instantly send off something that we may later deeply regret.
These problems can be avoided by refraining from contacting any clients or business associates through social media. Anything related to a specific case or a business issue should be done through correspondence and email. Use social media to announce firm developments, awards, successes and noteworthy news.
To read the In re Gamble decision click here.