Our online and offline personas are increasingly converging. Furthermore, the spotlight is being shone on law firms and the online behaviour of their members. The SRA has recently updated its guidance. They warn “the same ethical obligations of professional conduct apply in an online environment”. We take a look at what this means in practice and how law firms can ensure compliance today.
What online behaviour is offensive?
The SRA has experienced a significant increase in the number of complaints concerning inappropriate communications. Moreover, this includes the use of social media inside and outside of practice. The regulator expects professionals to “behave in a way that demonstrates integrity and maintains the trust the public places in you and in the provision of legal services”. For example, the type of behaviour they have investigated (and referred to the SDT) includes hate and discriminatory behaviour, the use of derogatory language, sexually explicit comments and abusive comments directed towards other firms or clients. The list goes on.
Who is at risk?
Managers of firms hold the responsibility to ensure that their members do not cross these lines. Therefore, SRA-regulated firms “must take all reasonable steps to ensure that the firm complies with [our] regulatory arrangements”, including “identifying, monitoring and managing all material risks to the business”.
If a member of your firm sends or posts an inappropriate or offensive communication, it not only puts you at risk under the SRA Principles, but it also has the potential of causing significant reputational and financial damage. For example, if clients react by withdrawing their business or are deterred from instructing your firm. In some circumstances, you could also be liable for your employee’s actions if the communication amounts to victimising or harassing a third party.
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