The Internet has changed the way people communicate and do business. Today, most people maintain at least one social media account. Whether they use Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn to stay connected and share information, many people post personal information online, where it is accessible to anyone with Internet access – including lawyers looking for opinions and other relevant information posted by jurors and prospective jurors in personal injury cases and other types of lawsuits.
In April 2014, the Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility of the American Bar Association (ABA) issued Formal Opinion 466 stating that attorneys can view and research potential jurors’ social media accounts without violating any ethics rules. The ABA noted, however, that attorneys should not attempt to glean additional information by “following” or “friending” jurors.
The ABA examined attorney viewing of social media accounts in connection with Rule 3.5(b) of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct, which has been adopted by 49 states. Specifically, Rule 3.5(b) prohibits attorneys from engaging in ex parte communications with jurors and potential jurors. The term “ex parte communication” refers to contact that occurs outside an official court proceeding or authorized meeting.
The ABA’s opinion will help trial lawyers assemble more comprehensive information about potential jurors. Previously, attorneys had to rely on simply questioning a prospective juror about his or her opinions, political views, background, and other details. By officially allowing lawyers to access jurors’ public online lives, the ABA’s opinion equips attorneys with the ability to select jurors who are impartial, honest, and fair. This is especially important for personal injury plaintiffs, who must often confront large corporations and powerful organizations that have done them harm.