Practice Tip: Don’t Friend your Clients
Posted on May 14th, 2011
This post is part of my Practice Tip Series.
You shouldn’t be friends with your clients on Facebook. That said, I have one former client who is a friend on Facebook. This tale is a cautionary tale.
We became FB friends in the course of litigation, when I needed to produce the client’s FB history. We remained FB friends, so I could monitor what was going on during litigation. We don’t interact on FB; I suspect the client has my feed hidden, or perhaps the client has too many friends to track. (I can’t think of any other reason a person would not want to occasionally comment on how lovely and charming my child is. Don’t laugh.) Not that it bothers me; generally when there is Facebook silence after a period of time, I’ll make an overture, then – if ignored – delete the friendship. It is what it is.
It was a hard case to work, and it consumed most of my working hours toward the end. This case was one of the reasons I needed to take a break from the law. I probably should have deleted the relationship when the representation ended (and I almost did), but I was concerned it could hurt the client if I did so. I would understand if the client deleted the relationship, but the client hasn’t. So as I delete my estranged family and too-remote acquaintances, I become more aware of the relationships that continue. Like my client. I justify keeping the connection because I like the client and the client’s family, and I enjoy seeing them do well. And the client is doing wonderfully.
All of this is leading up to the fact that I wanted to “like” a certain entity to track it on Facebook, where that sort of thing is convenient to me, but I worried it might offend or hurt the feelings of the former client.
And that’s where I realized that all of this is silly and has gone too far – at least from a professional point of view. I don’t owe a former client the duty not to hurt his or her feelings. In fact, it was probably my duty to expressly hurt feelings during the course of the litigation, to keep the client apprised of the case developments. Also, I doubt the former client would notice if one of a zillion contacts liked a particular entity.
So here’s my helpful tip: don’t friend your clients on Facebook, unless you absolutely must. It would be easy to see how someone might become enmeshed with a client on Facebook, to the detriment of the attorney-client relationship or confidentiality. I’ve heard of lawyers who have two Facebook accounts, one professional and one personal, but that seems convoluted. Better to simply not friend the clients in the first place.
(In case you’re wondering what I did: I liked the entity and hid it from my feed. As for what I’ll do: I’ll write the client a note and ask how she’s doing, then ask if she’d rather we terminate the FB friendship.)