The need for due diligence research is high for both law firms and their clients. Now more than ever, firms are researching attorney candidates before they are hired. Likewise, clients looking to hire an attorney or firm are using a plethora of online tools to spot potential issues early on.
As a result, it’s important that law firms and attorneys pay greater attention to managing their online presences. This may seem like a daunting task, but with an informed and deliberate approach you can identify and mitigate potentially damaging information about you on the world wide web.
Know the Risks
When hiring a lateral candidate, there is potential liability for a law firm if the attorney has participated in illegal activity or was previously sued by a client. See, for example, “The Case for Lateral Partner Due Diligence,” written by Dan Nardello for The American Lawyer (June 20, 2017). Thus, thorough vetting of attorney candidates is vital for firms in maintaining their credibility. It’s equally important that individual attorneys stay on top of their online presence in order to avoid losing out on an employment opportunity.
Similarly, most clients conduct due diligence on companies and individuals with whom they are entering into transactions. If a client is contracting with a company that has filed bankruptcy – that’s something a simple online search can reveal. A poorly managed online presence can result in the loss of business for a firm or attorney, no matter their experience or competency.
Know What’s Out There
The first step to managing your online presence is to know what is out there about you online. Items that can be easily researched about you typically include:
- criminal history,
- past lawsuits,
- judgments and liens filed in county records,
- past bankruptcies,
- corporate associations,
- state bar disciplinary history,
- news articles about you,
- secondary sources you authored, and
- social media posts.
In addition to these, keep in mind that professional reviews and biographical information about you on sites like Avvo, the Better Business Bureau, and Martindale can contain information about you as well.
Know the Limitations
There are some legal limitations on the ways your personal information can be uncovered or used. For example, the Texas Occupations Code Chapter 1702, The Private Security Act, states that when a person engages in the business of obtaining or furnishing, or accepts employment to obtain or furnish various categories of information, that person must be a licensed private investigator. Tex. Occ. Code. Ann. §§ 1702.101, 1702.104. However, there is an exception for attorneys that are engaged in the practice of law. Tex. Occ. Code. Ann. § 1702.324(b)(9).
Additionally, when obtaining more comprehensive background checks from third party providers, there are regulated uses of that information under various acts, including the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA), Driver’s Privacy Protection Act (DPPA), and Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). Generally speaking, these acts only permit certain uses of these reports, contain penalties for misuse, and set forth various disclosure and consent requirements.
Information in this article was originally discussed as part of the Dallas Association of Young Lawyers’ CLE discussion, “How to Ethically Maximize and Monetize Your Online Presence,” on June 28, 2017.
About Ashley Withers
Ashley P. Withers is a research attorney in the Dallas office of Jackson Walker. She conducts in-depth legal and business development research for all practice groups, attorneys, paralegals and staff. Ashley analyzes complex federal and state legal issues, performs due diligence research on companies and individuals, and identifies and develops new legal research strategies and resources.