Lawyers in South Carolina should be aware of an alert issued by the South Carolina Bar related to the LinkedIn social network. In its entirety, the new notice, issued last week, is as follows:
The social media site LinkedIn has proved problematic for S.C. Lawyers, owing to an as-yet unremovable section on each lawyer’s page titled “Skills and Expertise.” Any member of the public may endorse a Bar member and note areas of “expertise.” However, under Rule 7.4 of the S.C. Rules of Professional Conduct, only certified specialists may use the term “expert” or other forms of the word. To avoid possible discipline while maintaining your LinkedIn page, follow these instructions on how to hide skill endorsements and minimize the risk. For ethics and professional responsibility assistance, contact Risk Management Director Jill Rothstein at email@example.com. For questions about running your law practice, contact PMAP Director Courtney Kennaday at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In response to the alert, we here at Abnormal Use have investigated this issue further. First, it seems clear from the alert that LinkedIn endorsements themselves are not necessarily prohibited by the South Carolina rules. Rather, the alert simply reminds South Carolina attorneys of the requisites of Rule 7.4(b) of the South Carolina Rules of Professional Conduct, which provides:
A lawyer who is not certified as a specialist but who concentrates in, limits his or her practice to, or wishes to announce a willingness to accept cases in a particular field may so advertise or publicly state in any manner otherwise permitted by these rules. To avoid confusing or misleading the public and to protect the objectives of the South Carolina certified specialization program, any such advertisement or statements shall be strictly factual and shall not contain any form of the words “certified,” “specialist,” “expert,” or “authority” except as permitted by Rule 7.4(d).
Here’s the problem: LinkedIn endorsements, by their very nature, are included in a section of the user profile entitled “Skills & Expertise.” The rule prohibits attorneys from referring to themselves as “experts” except where certified as such. Thus, because the LinkedIn endorsements can only appear in a section with an objectionable title, the South Carolina Bar has warned its members that any such endorsements should be hidden from view and/or deleted. In sum, it appears that the Bar’s position is that nothing should be listed under “Skills & Expertise” section of one’s LinkedIn profile. We have learned that members of the South Carolina Bar have already contacted LinkedIn about removing the word “expertise” from the section. We do not know how, or whether, they will respond.