In additional to legal research skills, lawyers need fact-finding skills –especially when it comes to publicly available information about people. Social networking sites have allowed for a proliferation of online personal information and have added a new dimension to fact-finding on the web. Specifically, it has become important to know how to conduct research on these sites in an ethical manner.
In March, 2009, the Philadelphia Bar Association issued an advisory opinion warning attorneys against using third persons to “friend” witnesses on Facebook in order to gain access to profile information. Since then, there have been a few helpful discussions about how far a lawyer can go to access information found on social networking sites.
In this Law Technology News article, the author discusses how to mine social media for evidence and touches on the ethics of “friending“.
In this article from the New York Law Journal, Ken Strutin offers a detailed discussion on the Philadelphia advisory opinion as well as social media and ethics in the criminal law arena and in New York.
Strutin also has an excellent article in LLRX that discusses court decisions and ethics opinions that provide guidance on pretexting and social networking sites.
Finally, this lawyerist.com post discusses the ethics of changing one’s regional network on a social network site in order to access the profile of a witness in a different region. The preceding articles give a nice overview of the ethics of factual research on social networking sites. I am hoping that in the new decade, we’ll see more analysis and guidance on the topic.