Expert Witnesses and Social Media

Ask attorneys what they think of social media, and you’ll get a wide range of responses. Some are actively involved, others are avid readers, and some stay as far away from it as possible. There is still a fair amount of reluctance to get involved, whether it is a more “social” type of social media (like Facebook or Instagram) or a more professional one (like LinkedIn or possibly Twitter). Also included in social media is blogging, something that has been around since the late 90s, but which many lawyers and experts still refuse to be actively involved in.

Social media is an opportunity to write about what you know and promote your business and expertise. You can engage in dialogue with people people from far away places. There is so much that can be learned from interactions on social media, and so many relationships that can be developed (which would have previously been nearly impossible).

But of course, there are pitfalls. There is a common bias against social media: That it’s simply a waste of time because it is mostly about socializing and games. While there is definitely a very personal component to Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sites, their utility goes far beyond being a neat way to kill some time.

Social media is being actively and aggressively used by people who have a business reason to be there. Many participate because they love the exchange of knowledge and are eager to fill others in on current events, industry happenings, or interesting news stories. Others participate mostly to promote their companies and brands in some way. Some join in the discussion to raise their professional profiles and to gain credibility in their fields.

Whatever the goal behind the use of social media, it is important to keep your eye on the prize. Yes, plenty of time can be spent browsing these sites and bantering with others. In order to make the interactions useful, however, there needs to be a focus to those interactions. And in order to be successful with social media, there is a give and take which must occur. Many professionals find there is a fine balance between using social media professionally and personally.

Some lawyers are leery of social media, and often with good reason. Most of the time, it’s because they simply don’t know enough about the sites and the interactions. Other times it is because they’re afraid that something inappropriate is going to be said or found through social media. Those are both valid concerns.

Should you be concerned if the expert witness in your case is blogging or regularly posting on a site like Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn? Probably not. For a good expert witness, social media should be an outlet to demonstrate expertise.

However, lawyers often wonder about the ramifications when an expert testifies in a case. Could opposing counsel dig up a bunch of writings online and use them against the expert? Hopefully the writings will be found, but there will be nothing of concern in them. Again, this is a valid concern to address, but the paranoia surrounding it is probably a little overblown.

It is important that the expert witness always be consistent. This goes beyond using consistent methodology from case to case. It now also includes being consistent in all writings, online or off line. That shouldn’t be hard to do if the expert knows her or his field well enough and has established a core set of values and opinions.

There are certain topics that an expert should probably avoid discussing online. Of course, she or he can’t talk about a pending case, and should be careful speaking about past cases as it relates to confidential information. Inflammatory topics like race and religion might also be avoided by the cautious expert.

In general, however, a good expert knows what lines should not be crossed. It definitely makes sense to take a look at what an expert is doing online. Go ahead and search for things like a personal blog or a profile on Twitter or LinkedIn, and give a brief reading of what has been written. Familiarize yourself with the topics the expert writes about, and see what kinds of discussions are happening around those topics.

Does the expert show consistency in the opinions? Is good judgment exercised in what is posted? Is there anything which might harm your case? It’s pretty easy to identify problem material and weed out that expert. The flip side of this vetting process is that you might also find your expert is more knowledgeable than you anticipated or has some professional connections that could benefit you or your clients.

Many people are still learning the basics of social media, and it is something that is constantly evolving. Today’s popular social media tool may likely be replaced a year or two from now. The only thing you can count on in social media is that it will keep changing rapidly. But social media is not something to be feared in the hands of responsible users.

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