Using LinkedIn Specialties on Law Firm Profiles

The New York State Bar Association Committee on Professional Ethics recently released an opinion that addresses the use of specialties on a law firms LinkedIn company page.

LinkedIn is a rapidly expanding social networking site that many professionals choose to use in a strictly business capacity. The ability to quickly create personal profile pages and business profile pages makes the site appealing to attorneys around the country. As a result, firms of all sizes are turning to LinkedIn to develop a strong online presence and promote their practices

When creating a business profile on LinkedIn, you are given the opportunity to list “specialties” on the business profile. The New York State Bar Association Committee on Professional Ethics was asked to address whether or not it was ethical for a law firm to display their practice areas or other information under the “specialties” heading.

In New York, like in many states, attorneys are prohibited from advertising that they are specialists in a particular area of law, unless they fall under the narrow exception provided by rule 7.4(c). Specifically, a lawyer can only advertise that he or she is a specialist if he or she is certified as a specialist in a particular area by a private organization approved for that purpose by the American Bar Association, or by the authority having jurisdiction over specialization under the laws of another state or territory.”

By following the prohibition against advertising specialization, outside of the limited exception provided by rule 7.4(c), the New York State Bar Association Committee on Professional Ethics prohibited law firms from listing any specializations on their LinkedIn company profile pages because a law firm cannot obtain certification as a specialist. Furthermore, individual attorneys cannot list specializations on their LinkedIn profiles unless they have been certified as allowed in rule 7.4(c).

So the important points to take away are:

1. If your firm is doing business in New York you’d better take those specialties off your company profile or you are risking disciplinary action.

2. If you are an attorney licensed to practice in New York, you cannot list any specialties on your personal LinkedIn profile unless you are a certified specialist in that particular area of law.

One question that came to mind when I was looking at the opinion was whether or not there would be situations where listing specializations would be appropriate on law firm LinkedIn company profile page. Would it be acceptable for a solo who is a certified specialist to list his/her specialization on the company profile page? Or could a team of specialist attorneys list the specialization on their firm page? I would assume that if everyone in the firm was a specialist, the marketing would be accurate and therefore permissible. What do you think? Do you know of any other ethics committees that have made similar rulings about LinkedIn or other social media sites?

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