Prior to the existence of social media sites to share (okay, maybe over share) our everyday lives with the world, a family funeral was a valid excuse to get out of just about anything – work, oral surgery, and for some lawyers, court. When we asked for a few days off to attend our beloved Great-Aunt Verna’s funeral four states away, those in charge expressed their sympathy, and no one asked too many questions out of respect for our loss – although as a paralegal instructor I had to start asking for copies of obituaries after one memorable student had five grandmothers die in one semester.
But today, our society’s desire to enthusiastically share our daily activities, passing thoughts and alleged expertise with the world via the many social media venues available to us, including blogging and Facebook, can make mourning a double-edged sword – especially if we were never all that close to Great-Aunt Verna, or she’s started and ended more lives than a cat. The New York Times
has published an article, “Legal Battle Plays Out: Online Attitude vs. Rules of the Bar
” that everyone using social media to share personal information (not just legal professionals) needs to read.
If you’re a lawyer who uses your Facebook profile to broadcast details of your personal life, then it’s not the most prudent course of action to add as a Facebook friend a judge that you appear in front of in court, as illustrated by a story that Texas District Court Judge Susan Criss shared
at an American Bar Association conference. A young lawyer asked her for a trial continuance due to a death in the family, which she granted, only to learn through his subsequent Facebook updates that the continuance freed him up to motorbike and down mojitos, instead of engaging in a subdued mourning period or assisting in settling the estate. Maybe his deceased relative specifically requested that his survivors party hard in his memory, but the Court generally takes a dim view of having cases on its overloaded docket postponed, without serious cause and an appropriate air of gravitas
when a continuance is granted.
This may seem obvious to most professionals, but two lawyers featured in this article found out that using your blog to sling mud at the Court or blabbing confidential details about your more irritating clients – or worse, about how you aided their criminal activities – can result in not only disciplinary action by the bar but the loss of your job.
Even President Obama told a group of ninth graders
this week to “be careful what you post on Facebook.” But The New York Times
article illustrates that in this era of more or less taking for granted the sharing (or over sharing) of our daily lives online, we can’t hear that advice enough, whether we’re just starting high school, or have completed a postgraduate education and ought to know better.
So the next time Great-Aunt Verna passes into the Great Beyond and you ask your boss-dentist-judge for a postponement of that inevitable deadline-root-canal-trial to mourn her appropriately, raise a freshly mixed mohito in her memory – privately.