Robert Ambrogi recently authored a blog questioning whether LinkedIn endorsements violate legal ethics. The issue is whether receiving an endorsement from someone who is not familiar with your skill or expertise constitutes a violation of Rule 7.1:
A lawyer shall not make a false or misleading communication about the lawyer or the lawyer’s services.
Applying this rule to the generally harmless phenomenon of “endorsing” someone, a strict reading of 7.1 could result in a violation:
If a lawyer permits an endorsement to remain on the lawyer’s LinkedIn profile that the lawyer knows to be misleading, even if someone else posted the endorsement, that would seem to be a problem under Rule 7.1.
Robert Ambrogi, Do LinkedIn Endorsements Violate Legal Ethics?, LawSites (May 20, 2013).
It is a great question and illustration of new media’s impact on legal practice and ethics. Even as a law student, I have experienced the dilemma of a misplaced endorsement. A friend endorsed me for “Litigation.” Of course, as a second year law student, my experience in litigation could hardly be described as a skill, much less an expertise. I deleted the endorsement with the understanding that my friend merely offered the endorsement as a friendly gesture, about as harmless as “Liking” a picture on Facebook.
So my only question regarding Mr. Ambrogi’s inquiry is whether endorsements meet the requirements of the second sentence of 7.1:
A communication is false or misleading if it contains a material misrepresentation of fact or law, or omits a fact necessary to make the statement considered as a whole not materially misleading.
The keyword for me is “material.” Do LinkedIn endorsements amount to material misrepresentations? Sure, they might be misleading to a degree, but “material”? I am not sure. LinkedIn endorsements have become so commonplace that it seems that few would reasonably rely on them as material barometers of skill or expertise.
Regardless, these are the considerations that lawyers, bar associations, and law students alike must continue to make as new media sources, like LinkedIn, become more widespread. While I question whether endorsements rise to the level of “material” representations, I, as mentioned earlier, try to remove any endorsements that I feel do not accurately represent my skills. So, whether or not the ABA ever addresses this issue, it is probably best practice for law students to remove endorsements that do not accurately reflect their skills or expertise.