LinkedIn For Lawyers—Connecting With Judges
With LinkedIn’s increasing importance in the job search and in career development, it’s tempting to want to try to connect with anyone and everyone you can. After all, the more connections in your network, the more reach you have and the more people are able to reach you. But are there some people you shouldn’t try to connect with?
What about judges?
On May 9, 2012, Florida’s Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee released JEAC Opinion 2012-12 on this issue, in response to a question posed by a state judge (referred to in the opinion as “the Inquiring Judge”).
Whether a judge may add lawyers who may appear before the judge as "connections" on the professional networking site, Linked In, or permit such lawyers to add the judge as their "connection" on that site?
The Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee rejected the Inquiring Judge suggestion that distinctions should be made between friends and connections on different social media platforms. Facebook, the Inquiring Judge argued, is all about personal connections. Whereas LinkedIn is all about professional connections, which the Inquiring Judge argued doesn’t connote the same level of interpersonal connection or influence.
The Inquiring Judge submits that a distinction should be drawn between Facebook, where family and other personal relationships are fostered, and LinkedIn which is for the purpose of conducting professional networking. Therefore, the Inquiring Judge submits that "a judge's connection on LinkedIn with lawyers who may appear before the judge does not reasonably convey the impression to the public that a personal relationship of any kind necessarily exists between them." The Inquiring Judge states that the Committee in Opinion 09-20 "determined that judges cannot include lawyers as friends on certain social network sites because the term 'friends' conveys the traditional meaning of close affection.
Instead, the JEAC noted that on both Facebook and LinkedIn, the Inquiring Judge must actively agree to be connected or friended. This means the Inquiring Judge is picking and choosing who he friends or connects with, or doesn’t. Because Facebook and LinkedIn use the same selection process, the JEAC concluded they should be treated alike and are both subject to its Canon 2B rule against judges conveying (or permitting others to convey) the impression that they are in a special position to influence the judge.
The Committee continues to believe that the process of selecting persons to be connections on LinkedIn, and the communication by the judge of the list of the judge's connections to others who the judge has approved, violates Canon 2B. The Committee does not believe that there is meaningful distinction in this regard between Facebook, and LinkedIn, a site used for professional networking, because the selection and communication process is the same on both sites…
As explained above, it is the process of selection of "friends" or "connections" by the judge, and the fact that the names of those "friends" or "connections" are then communicated -- often, but not always, selectively to others -- that violates Canon 2B, because by doing so the judge conveys or permits others to convey the impression that they are in a special position to influence the judge.
What does this mean for you?
Although the rules are evolving and are inconsistent from state to state, the safest course for you is to refrain from asking judges to connect with you on LinkedIn. Don’t put judges in an awkward position that might come back to haunt you or them.