Social Networking, Meet Billable Hours

If you’re a lawyer and you’re playing it by the book – like we all know that you are – then there are long, seemingly interminable stretches of your life lived in six-minute increments. The ticks of the clock are both a thorn in your side and a nugget of gold in your (or your firm’s) pocket.

The sense of a higher moral obligation and service to your community and fellow humans may leave you inclined to argue that clockwatching is not part of your game plan, and every conceivable minute logged is used serving the needs of your client.

And, that’s all very noble. No one is accusing you of padding the bill. Besides, more and more alternatives to billable hours have been emerging since the recession as a way to cut costs.

Nevertheless, even the noblest of attorneys may not be able to resist the siren song of social networking: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Twitter, Flickr, Foursquare. The list is long, the attractions many and the temptation real.

For some, it is even more than a distraction, and fudging the logbooks is the least of a person’s troubles. An Indiana deputy attorney general was fired in February, 2011, for “tweeting” his opinion about how to handle Midwestern protestors during legislative debates, suggesting law enforcement use live ammunition to quell crowds.

Attorneys take heart, as faithful servants of the law you are not the only ones susceptible to the lure of social networking.

A North Carolina judge was reprimanded when it was discovered he “friended” an attorney involved in a child custody case brought before him, and even posted some messages about the pending litigation.

It may be easy for some professionals in the criminal justice system to shrug their shoulders at this, but rest assured the powers that be have decided that it is, indeed, a “big deal.” Social networking sites, while they may be a boon for friendships and socializing can be dangerous when mixed with work-related issues.

Most lawyers are required to take an actual class on ethics during law school, and then pass an ethics exam before admittance to the Bar. This code is established and maintained by the American Bar Association’s Center for Professional Responsibility, and they take their jobs very seriously.

Within this reading and recitation of the rules there can be little confusion as to whether dabbling in social networking sites during – or worse, while involving work is acceptable. The best course of action is to keep your logbook and your Facebook separate at all times, and remember that confidentiality always wins the day.

James Madeiros is a recent law school grad and staff writer for Criminal Justice Degree Schools, a career site providing information on criminal justice degrees and schools.