LinkedIn Endorsements: An Ethics Minefield for Lawyers?

Ethical Pitfalls for Lawyers

LinkedIn is arguably the most useful social network for lawyers and an outstanding way to initiate and grow relationships. But one of LinkedIn’s features could cause lawyers to run afoul of legal ethics rules.

The Skills & Endorsement section of your profile allows you to list your talents and areas in which you excel. A skill could be something you add to your bio like “Wage & Hour Litigation” or “Patent Prosecution” or even “Alternative Fee Arrangements.” Seems innocuous, right? No ethics violations here.

Once you list a skill, LinkedIn lets the people to whom you’re connected endorse you by confirming that you do, indeed, possess that talent or expertise. But LinkedIn can go a step further, identifying other seemingly related skills that your connections can endorse you for as well. That’s great if the suggestion is an actual skill or attribute you hadn’t previously considered, but what would otherwise be a nice gesture from a friend or colleague may land you in ethical hot water.

Here’s why. Rule 7.1 of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct states:

“A lawyer shall not make a false or misleading 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.”

With the rule in mind, suppose you’re a tax attorney.  At LinkedIn’s prompting, one of your valued connections endorses you for “Non-Profit Tax Counseling” even though that’s not part of your practice. Approving and leaving that skill on your profile would violate Rule 7.1, and place you in professional responsibility jeopardy.

The good news is that there are ways to mitigate any potential ethical risks:

Be Vigilant – Just because LinkedIn seems simple to use doesn’t mean the site should be treated with a “set-and-forget” attitude. For lawyers, using LinkedIn requires ongoing attention. You should be regularly reviewing your profile, including the Skills & Endorsements section, to ensure nothing is listed that would raise a misconduct flag.

Watch What You Approve – We get so used to mindlessly clicking through notifications from our various social networking sites that it can be easy to okay something without realizing it. You should always read any email or notification asking you to approve an addition to your LinkedIn profile, especially anything pertaining to the Skills & Endorsements section. You want to make sure nothing untoward or inaccurate goes up on your profile.

Account Settings Are Your Friend – LinkedIn gives you close control of how your profile looks and operates, including whether or not you allow connections to suggest skills. If you think you can manage these as they arise, feel free to leave the settings as is. However, it is possible to prevent connections from suggesting skills or to opt out of endorsements altogether. You may also remove existing skills from your list, including those that have been suggested by others.

To opt out of Endorsements:

  • Click on “Profile” at the top of your LinkedIn homepage and then select “Edit Profile.”
  • Go down to “Skills & Endorsements” section and click anywhere to edit.
  • For “I want to be endorsed” click No.
  • Click “Save” to hide all existing endorsements and prevent future ones.

To opt out of Endorsement suggestions:

  • Click on “Profile” at the top of your LinkedIn homepage and then select “Edit Profile.”
  • Go down to “Skills & Endorsements” section and click anywhere to edit.
  • Uncheck the box next to “Include me in endorsement suggestions to my connections.”
  • You can also hide endorsement suggestions on the profiles of others that you view. Just uncheck “Send me suggestions to endorse my connection.”

To remove individual skills:

  • Click on “Profile” at the top of your LinkedIn homepage and then select “Edit Profile.”
  • Go down to the “Skills & Endorsements” section and find the skill you want to remove.
  • Click the X next to the skill.
  • Click save.

These are just a few preventative steps, and a vigilant approach to your LinkedIn profile should keep any ethics risks to a minimum. If you have questions about LinkedIn and other social media best practices for lawyers, or would like help with optimizing your profile, please contact us – we’d be happy to help.