On October 7, students from Miami Law's Professional Responsibility and Ethics Program (PREP) presented an ethics CLE training to attorneys at the State Attorney's Office dealing with issues that social media pose to prosecutors.
PREP Fellows, Irma Khoja and Robert Zavistoski, and Intern Kelly Rains, under the supervision of Director Jan Jacobowitz, created hypotheticals designed to facilitate discussion about the cutting-edge ethical issues and impact of social networking sites on the legal profession.
Khoja began the conversation by discussing ethical issues when dealing with witnesses who post information on Facebook that may require disclosure to defense counsel. Next, Rains spoke on the ethical challenges concerning Facebook friendships between prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges. Finally, Zavistoski addressed the issues surrounding juror selection in the context of social media.
According to Zavistoski, "One of the major challenges in these types of presentations is to create a realistic hypothetical situation that will provide for a meaningful discussion of the ethical issues. The issues that Facebook and other social media present to prosecutors are indeed testing the ethical limits of the legal profession. It was particularly gratifying that some attorneys actually encountered the hypothetical situations that we presented and that we were able to provide some real world guidance to practicing attorneys."
"The most interesting thing to me about this whole project is the difference in attitudes of the attorneys who used Facebook in college and continue to use it, and those attorneys who are completely unfamiliar with these sites," said Rains. "Facebook and the like aren't going away any time soon, and trainings like these help attorneys see what rules may be implicated at certain times and perhaps help to set office policies governing friendships with parties, personal postings, and juror selection."
Khoja added, "This was a terrific opportunity to engage with practicing attorneys who shared stories about their interactions and dilemmas with social networking sites. While I presented my research to the attorneys, I also gained a lot of insight by listening to the real life ethical challenges the attorneys faced as well as how they responded to such situations."
Assistant State Attorneys Susan Dechovitz and Tom Headley found the training to be timely and helpful.
"We continue to be grateful to Jan Jacobowitz and her team of students for providing us with such excellent trainings in the vitally important area of lawyer ethics," they wrote in a thank-you note to the students. "In particular, this last training on Social Networking Issues was most enlightening. We had no idea when this topic was selected that it would be so far-reaching and fraught with legal and ethical complications. Thank you for stimulating robust discussion and providing exceptional guidance."
The Professional Responsibility and Ethics Program was established in 1996 as an in-house program within the Center for Ethics and Public Service at the University Of Miami School Of Law. The program has dedicated countless student hours to public service and has educated thousands of members of the Florida Bench and Bar. As the students teach, they learn and quite often make a difference, prompting organizations to pause and reconsider their approaches to some of the toughest ethical dilemmas.