Is a Facebook “Friend” Request Ethically Dishonest?

Social media may offer a treasure trove of information in personal injury litigation and its lure can be strong. However, there may be a wicked hook to contend with if an attorney goes fishing too far.

 A plaintiff’s attorney has filed an ethics complaint against two defense lawyers after damaging information was discovered on his client’s Facebook page. The trouble for the defense team began when the plaintiff upgraded his privacy settings on Facebook. A paralegal at the defense firm “friended” the plaintiff to obtain photos and a video of him wrestling. After settling the case, the plaintiff’s attorney cried foul claiming that the paralegal’s friend request was tantamount to improper contact with his client in violation of ethical rules.

 The ethical charges include failing to properly supervise a nonlawyer assistant, dishonesty and violations of ethics rules, and conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice. There will be a hearing this fall that should give some guidance on the issues raised. While New Jersey has not weighed in on the issue yet, other jurisdictions have found it to be unethical to “friend” someone under false pretenses and without proper disclosure.

 For more information, contact Denise Ricci at dricci@wcmlaw.com.