We all get them nowadays, seemingly harmless and meaningless endorsements from acquaintances of the past. People who want to assist an old friend or perhaps a family member who wants to promote a relative’s skills. Well, that email, “Jack has endorsed you,” innocuous as it may seem, brings up interesting questions from a legal ethics perspective.1
Rule 7.1 of the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct states:
A lawyer shall not make or use a false, misleading, or non-verifiable communication about the lawyer or the lawyer’s services. A communication is false or misleading if it contains a material misrepresentation of fact or law or omits a fact necessary to make the statement considered as a whole not materially misleading.
Now let’s present the following scenario: You are an attorney who has extensive experience in the environmental law realm. You receive an endorsement for contract negotiations, and you have not seen a contract since you took the bar in 1992. Keeping Rule 7.1 in mind, does that constitute the “use of a false, misleading, or perhaps non-verifiable communication about your services? On one hand, you have not done anything. However, on the other, you now know of a misleading statement that is now associated with your profile on LinkedIn. It is fairly conceivable that someone looking for a contract attorney in your locale who happens to know you will see 5 – 10 endorsements for you and give you a ring for your services.
It is possible that Comment 1 on Rule 7.1 addresses this issue. Comment 1 states: Whatever means are used to make known a lawyer’s services, statements about them must be truthful. Ostensibly, this would include endorsements on your LinkedIn profile page. The endorsements are a method that your services are to be made known by. If they are not, what are they for?
But let’s be honest, who pays attention to endorsements? For the very same reason that I am writing this article, people don’t pay attention to endorsements. Everyone knows that they are not necessarily valuable in and of themselves. Nonetheless, a LinkedIn feature may prove to be a prudent maneuver by any individual that considers endorsements to be a legal ethical issue. A new LinkedIn feature allows an individual to edit the endorsements he receives, either wholesale or on an individual basis. One can even choose in which order the endorsements are displayed and whose endorsements others can see.
This is not only prudent but it may eventually increase the value of endorsements in the long run for everyone. So, my endorsement is to LinkedIn for providing yet another great feature to an excellent social media/business website.
1This article is by no means a comprehensive analysis of the issue presented. This blog article is meant to be a thought provoking piece of literature that brings to light potential problems social media can bring about within the legal ethics environment.