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Watch out for Reciprocal Social Media Endorsements

I’ve said before that reciprocal endorsements might be a problem in Virginia under Rule 7.2(c):

A lawyer shall not give anything of value to a person for recommending the lawyer’s services except that a lawyer may…

(exceptions are for advertising costs, non-profit lawyer referral services, and buying a law practice)

I decided to contact our ethics folks to see if I was crazy. Here’s my email to them:

Hi guys,

With the rise of Facebook, and now Google’s “+1”, there’s a temptation for attorneys to ask each other to “Like” (Facebook) or “+1” (Google) our websites. In return, the attorney says they’ll reciprocate.

Is it allowed for an attorney to say: “If you ‘Like’ my page on Facebook, I’ll ‘Like’ yours in return?” (Or the same thing for Google’s +1 or a similar service?)

To me, this violates 7.2(c), since the “Like” or “+1” has marketing value for the attorney.

Please let me know.
Thank you!

Here’s the state bar ethics response. But first, please note this is an informal, quick response from the ethics folks. It’s not official, and it’s not binding on anyone.

Yes, Rule 7.2(c) prohibits a lawyer from rewarding another for recommending the lawyer’s employment. Cross-endorsements are a quid pro quo arrangement that would violate the rule. Very similar to ‘lead-sharing’ which we addressed in LEO 1846.

In other words, to all Virginia lawyers – I’d think twice before engaging in reciprocal endorsements (“If you Like my Facebook page, I’ll Like yours.”).

I’m considering asking for a formal ethics opinion to get a final answer on this issue.

For the record, I don’t have anything personally against reciprocal social media endorsements. It would be great if Virginia would allow that sort-of thing.

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8 Responses to “Watch out for Reciprocal Social Media Endorsements”

  1. David
    July 1st, 2011

    How do I ask you a question ? (Andrew)

  2. Andrew Flusche
    July 1st, 2011

    @David – That depends upon the question. 🙂 Feel free to post it publicly here, or email me at aflusche@gmail.com.

  3. Alexander Davie
    July 3rd, 2011

    For this rule to apply, would there have to be an explicit or implicit quid pro quo? What I mean is, do you think they are interpreting the rule to prevent any two lawyers from “Like”ing each other, or is the practice just prohibited by the rule if there is (i) an agreement between the two lawyers or (ii) one “Like” is conditioned on the other “Like”?

  4. I enjoyed reading this a lot and I really hope to read more of your posts in the future, so I’ve bookmarked your blog. But I couldn’t just bookmark it, oh no.. When I see quality website’s like this one, I like to share it with others So I’ve created a backlink to your site,you can see it here if you want to:

  5. Adam Haworth
    July 9th, 2011

    good write i enjoyed reading, I will be following your blog hope to read more great articles.

  6. Miami
    July 13th, 2011

    Good point.. If you consider “Like” as an endorsement, you are 100% right. But I personally do not think “Like” or +1 is as powerful as endorsing someone or a business. You may like an article on X site and place +1 on that article page on Google, or like on FB which does not mean you are fully endorsing the business.

  7. Mary
    August 14th, 2011

    So it’s nice written! Good luck to your company!!!

  8. Tom
    August 24th, 2011

    That’s an interesting thought. Although it seems like a small situation it’s clear the ethics in place to minimize the back and forth. I think it’s worth considering, on the other hand, the impact or “value” these situations actually hold. Is there enough value in these “likes” to actually be considered a “reward”? Just a thought.

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