In September 2017 Majid Mahmood was fined £25,000 and was the subject of a deferred period of suspension from practice as a result of what were described by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal as wholly inappropriate posts on his personal Facebook account.
In June 2017 Michael Wolkind QC was fined £1,000 by the Bar Standards Board for claiming he was so good that he could get 'Stevie Wonder a driving licence'. He was also heavily criticised by the then Lord Chief Justice for boasting on his website.
In June 2016 Mark Small of Baker Small solicitors faced a barrage of criticism for appearing to gloat on Twitter that he had succeeded on behalf of local authority clients against parents claiming funding for special needs children. He apologised, removed the tweets, made a donation to charity and reported himself to the SRA.
He was subsequently reprimanded. Local authority clients were quick to take their business away.
Inappropriate use of social media will get you into trouble. There is no longer any room for debate. This applies to private as well as business media, and it is unlikely there will be any scope to try and distinguish the two.
In the case of Mahmood, the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal took the opportunity to remind the profession that 'trust' was not limited, for example, to honesty in the management of money or in telling the truth, but it required behaviour that accorded with high professional standards in both private and public life.
Solicitors are role models and must at all times be aware of their position and potential to influence wider society.
These are not new principles, but their connection with Facebook (and the same will apply to Twitter and Linkedin etc), is a clear example of what will follow in the future.
Social media is increasingly used by law firms to create an image, demonstrate expertise, engage with the public and ultimately to attract new business. It may be that Michael Wolkind and Baker Small thought their profile or online appearance would be enhanced by what they said. In the case of Mr Mahmood he took to Facebook to express opinions that from any perspective were deeply offensive, and as a solicitor it was easy to link him to Facebook.
He seemed to hold strong views on certain religious matters. His error was to share them on Facebook for everyone to see. A complaint was inevitable, but it was the subsequent arguing with the complainant that aggravated the original posts. The Tribunal does expect solicitors to have insight into what they have done.
It is easy for each of us to hold strong views on certain matters, and on occasions to feel pleased with what we have done. The Tribunal has made absolutely clear what standards are to be expected from solicitors, and this will apply to social media and websites.
No one can say we have not been warned. With a 24/7 newsfeed and portal for self expression quite literally in the palm of our hands, it is all too easy to be caught out as one enjoys the post-win gin and tonic, and although tweets can disappear in a second, the damage can last much longer.
It’s too easy to get it wrong. The Law Society has published a guidance note and it will repay a read. It can be accessed here.