KU basketball, football feud offers cautionary tale for law students, lawyers on Facebook

If you’re a KU student or alum, you’re undoubtedly aware of the recent brouhaha pitting members of the KU football team versus members of the KU basketball team. As I read the press coverage in the Lawrence Journal-World, University Daily Kansan and (gulp) Espn.com, I predictably thought of lessons law students and attorneys could glean from these ugly incidents.

Let’s put aside the fisticuffs and focus on the fallout from a certain basketball team member’s Facebook postings. It seems obvious that someone who represents a university, business or other organization should never post offensive and possibly self-incriminatory statements on Facebook or other social media sites. But far too often posts are cringe-worthy and cause embarrassment or worse for the organizations the posters represent.

It also seems obvious that lawyers, schooled in the recognition of potential liability, and those training to be lawyers would grasp the dangers of social networking sites. For example, it’s common knowledge that employers search the publicly accessible Facebook, My Space and Twitter accounts of potential employees. But ask any employer in the legal profession if they’ve ever encountered information on social networking sites that made them think twice about a candidate. The answer will be yes.

The reality is that many law students and attorneys, through imprudent use of social networking, put themselves at risk of the same type of negative publicity that has befallen the basketball team. In the September 2009 edition of the KC Counselor (the magazine of the Kansas City Metropolitan Bar Association) appears the article “J.D. Bird Street: All the Little Lawyers Go Tweet, Tweet, Tweet: Legal Ethics of the Socially Networked,” by Therese Miller of the law firm of Shook Hardy & Bacon. Ms. Miller offers many general guidelines to social networking; the following bear repeating:

  • Everything you post is discoverable and traceable.
  • Be respectful.
  • Stop and think before posting. Make sure it would be something you would be OK with if your colleagues or a judge read it.
  • Avoid personal attacks, online fights and hostile communications.
  • Do not post anything that is offensive or inflammatory.
  • Do not post anything negatively about opposing counsel, judges or other members of the profession.
  • Be honest.
  • Your profile should never contain anything that is false or misleading.

An article from the Lawyerist Web site gets more specific, offering some practical suggestions for utilizing the privacy features of Facebook.

Todd Rogers, assistant dean for career services

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