International Bar Association Publishes First Global Report on Impact of Social Media on Legal Profession

Last week, the International Bar Association (IBA) published The Impact of Online Social Networking on the Legal Profession and Practice, the first comprehensive report on the potential impact of online social networking within the legal profession.

The IBA conducted a 31-question survey of some 60 bar associations and/or law societies from 47 jurisdictions (all continents were represented). Questions were related to the appropriateness of the use of online social networks by legal actors, with a particular focus on judges and lawyers.

Among the highlights:

  • Almost 70 per cent of respondents felt that it is acceptable for lawyers and judges to have each other as contacts on online social networks.
  • Over 90 per cent of respondents considered it unacceptable for lawyers and judges to post comments or opinions about fellow lawyers, judges, parties, or cases in progress on online social networks.
  • The vast majority of respondents from jurisdictions comprising a jury system found it unacceptable for jurors to post comments or opinions about the judges, lawyers, parties, and/or cases which they are observing on online social networking sites.
  • While a majority of respondents found it unacceptable for lawyers, judges, and jurors to post updates about proceedings (by posting ‘status updates’, ‘tweeting’, blogging, etc) on online social networks while a matter is pending before the courts strictly for informational purposes, the majority deemed the conduct acceptable for journalists.
  • Over 85 per cent of respondents deemed it acceptable for lawyers to access and use the information found on the online social networking profiles of the parties in a case, which forms part of the public domain, as evidence in proceedings.
  • Nearly 95 per cent of respondents from jurisdictions containing a jury system thought that, in addition to routine instructions,jurors should receive specific instructions limiting their online communications and use of online social networking sites.
  • Only 15 per cent of respondents felt that lawyers’ use of online social networks negatively affects the public’s confidence in the integrity and professionalism of the legal profession, while almost 40 per cent of respondents felt that judges’ use of online social networks negatively affects the public’s confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary, thereby undermining judicial independence.
  • 85 per cent of respondents thought that law students should be informed by their law schools as to the potential risks and disadvantages associated with the use of online social networking within the legal profession.
  • Over 75 per cent of respondents considered the advantages of online social networking to outweigh its disadvantages.
  • 80 per cent of respondents stated that there is a need for ethical/professional codes and standards to be adapted to online social interactions affecting the legal profession and practice, as they cannot be adequately applied in their current form.
  • Over 90 per cent of respondents stated that there is a need for bar associations, societies, and councils, or, alternatively, for the IBA to construe guidelines regarding the use of online social networking sites within the legal profession and practice.

As a follow-up, a global social media project plan will be launched at the IBA Latin American Regional Forum Conference in Bogota, Colombia, 14–16 March 2012.

 

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