Do LinkedIn Endorsements Violate Legal Ethics?

An update from LinkedIn this morning indicated that a connection of mine had endorsed me as being skilled in litigation. The person who endorsed me is someone I know only through the Internet. We have never met or spoken, that I can recall. That means that the person has no first-hand knowledge of my skill in litigation. I do sometimes write about litigation-related topics, here and elsewhere, and arguably that could provide some basis for this person to decide that I am skilled in this area. But, frankly, it happens with some frequency that I receive an endorsement from someone I have never met.

skills and expertiseThat got me wondering about the ethics of these LinkedIn endorsements. Under ABA Model Rule 7.1, a lawyer is not to make any false or misleading claims about his or her services. If a lawyer permits an endorsement to remain on the lawyer’s LinkedIn profile that the lawyer knows to be misleading, even if someone else posted the endorsement, that would seem to be a problem under Rule 7.1.

Turning to Google in search of an answer, I discovered that smarter people than I had already considered this question. Their answers, however, are not in agreement.

LinkedIn introduced endorsements in September 2012. Now, users’ profiles include a “Skills & Expertise” section where you see all the rows of tiny faces representing the people who have endorsed you for various skills.

Last January, Andrew Perlman wrote a thoughtful post about this at Legal Ethics Forum. In addition to teaching professional responsibility at Suffolk University Law School and directing its Institute on Law Practice Technology and Innovation, Perlman was chief reporter for the ABA Commission on Ethics 20/20. Here is what he says about the scenario I described above:

[L]et’s imagine that someone offers to endorse me who has no basis for assessing my skills in a particular area. Perhaps the endorser is a friend who has never worked with me. Or imagine that someone offers to endorse my skills or knowledge in an area I know very little about. For example, one of my contacts offered to endorse me in the area of “International Law,” even though I know very little about the subject. If I accept endorsements of this sort (i.e., endorsements from people who have not worked with me or endorsements of skills/knowledge I don’t have), it seems to me that my acceptance of the endorsement and making it visible to my contacts would be misleading and violate Rule 7.1.

Perlman goes on to say that it would be OK for a lawyer to accept an endorsement from someone who actually knows the lawyer’s skills and abilities and assuming the lawyer actually has those skills and abilities. (Some states, however, prohibit testimonials of any kind.) One other issue to be wary of, he adds, is the reciprocal endorsement (or the quid pro quo endorsement), which could violated Model Rule 7.2(b).

In an article in the Illinois Bar Journal, lawyer Adam W. Lasker interviews Michael P. Downey, the former chair of the Illinois State Bar Association Standing Committee on Professional Conduct, on the ethics of LinkedIn endorsements. Endorsements are OK, Downey says, provided they contain no false statements and are not given as a quid pro quo. Just because the endorser does not know you directly does not make it a false statement, he argues.

[H]e feels justified accepting some endorsements from strangers who may have indirectly come to honestly appreciate his abilities and integrity as a lawyer.

“I’ve written about 60 or 70 articles on legal ethics, so maybe they’ve endorsed me because they’ve read my articles,” he said.

In comments posted to Andrew Perlman’s post, Joshua M. King, general counsel for Avvo, takes a somewhat contrary view. He argues, first, that lawyers cannot be held liable for endorsements posted by third parties, because any ethics restrictions would be preempted by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. He further argues that the endorser’s actual familiarity with the lawyer’s skills does not matter, provided the lawyer actually has the skill. He also notes that if someone endorses you for a skill you do not have, it will not appear on your profile unless you allow it to.

At High Tech Intellectual Property Legal Blog, California lawyer Judith Szepesi takes the position that these endorsements do not violate Model Rule 7.1 because they are not statements by the lawyer about his or her own skills. She adds, however, that under California’s rules, these endorsements may constitute testimonials and require the lawyer’s LinkedIn profile to carry a disclaimer.

I am no ethics expert. However, I think it is significant that LinkedIn provides the ability to “hide” endorsements others have given you. (You can hide any single endorsement or choose to hide all endorsements by default.) If someone gives you an endorsement that you believe is false or misleading, and if you do not remove it, then you are effectively accepting it and allowing it to be communicated to anyone who views your LinkedIn profile. To my mind, that brings it within the purview of Model Rule 7.1.

Posted in: General
Tagged: legal ethics
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21 Responses to “Do LinkedIn Endorsements Violate Legal Ethics?”

  1. Steve Bell says:

    Beyond being ethically questionable, these endorsements are valueless. Lots of individuals whom I don’t know endorse me (a CMO, not a lawyer). While I love LinkedIn, the endorsement exercise comes as vacuous and vain as do the lawyer directories. I don’t endorse others, and I don’t ask for endorsements. No inside counsel that I know uses directories to evaluate lawyers, and I am sure a LinkedIn endorsement is worth even less than THAT!

    • karla says:

      I agree. Linkedin endorsements are valueless. I once saw someone in human resources endorse a accouting manager for analysis (?). Since I know the relationship it was laughable, at best. I love linked in but feel that this feature is misleading.

    • Dan says:

      1,2, or 3 endorsement are valueless but 100 endorsements are meaningful for both the member and members. You can remove them if they don’t make sense to you but if a lot of people start to endorse me for a skill, it makes for a good data set. It’s a type of crowdsourcing and yelp does it with goods and service, amazon does it for products, etc.

  2. Gaylene Van Dusen says:

    I’m not in a regulated profession like law, but share the concern about the new LinkedIn endorsement system. I have been endorsed by people I don’t know and who would have no way of knowing about the quality of work I do. Unfortunately, it seems that some endorsers are using the system for their own objectives. The system adds a great deal of clutter on the screen and is an annoyance to deal with. In my opinion it should be stripped out.

  3. Earl Powell says:

    Not an attorney but a businessman, minister, and heavy user of LinkedIn.

    Couple of thoughts. The recommendations specifically ask, Does Earl KNOW (insert skill, talent here)? It does not ask, Is Earl a subject matter expert. I endorse after looking at education and experience, e.g., a CPA, I KNOW he KNOWS financials, depreciation, budgets, analysis, taxes. I WON’T recommend for Excel or Access (he SHOULD know them, but I won’t presume so), public speaking and leadership (as someone who has spent a life studying these, those can’t be presumed). I am not suggesting mastery. This morning I sent a message to a connect saying I couldn’t in good consciousness endorse her for “coffee,” “snark” and “total awesomeness.” Not till I know her better!

    Recommendations is a WHOLE other matter.

    I would question why are you on LinkedIn. My reason is to connect and build my network. I do not use it to ADVERTISE, which may be where you are having issues, perhaps?

    Two final thoughts:

    1. Agreed, endorsements are worthless.
    2. You can HIDE that part of your profile, which many do. So if you think it may be an ethical issue, go, thou, and doest likewise!

  4. Kristine Stewart says:

    I did not know that we were able to hide endorsements. Thanks so much for that tip! I too have received endorsements from friends who don’t really know anything about my work or the quality of that work, but who probably feel like they are doing me a favor.

  5. I wrote a blog post (article) about why Florida lawyers who aren’t board certified should be very cautious when accepting endorsements on Linkedin.

    http://www.justinziegler.net/florida-attorneys-should-be-careful-when-using-linkedin/

  6. As I commented on the ABA site, I am uncomfortable about the casual way in which endorsements are distributed and accepted on LinkedIn (and AVVO). Some lawyers believe, however, that it is enough for them to rely on the honesty of those listing their expertise and do not hold themselves accountable for endorsing the listed skills of lawyers who they do not know. I disagree. Each of us is personally responsible for what we advertise and for what we endorse as if it is from personal knowledge. Dismissing the seriousness of this issue with a mere recitation of “caveat emptor” is irresponsible at best. Further, whether or not they should rely on LinkedIn as a professional directory is beside the point. Some people, wisely or not, are naïve and trusting. We should not be so cavalier about the possible injurious consequences of any form of advertising in which we are knowing participants.

  7. […] Do LinkedIn Endorsements Violate Legal Ethics? (lawsitesblog.com) […]

  8. […] Ambrogi recently wrote a blog questioning whether LinkedIn endorsements violate legal ethics. The issue is whether receiving an […]

  9. […] too long ago, Bob Ambrogi asked: Do LinkedIn Endorsements Violate Legal Ethics? Bob does a great job providing a variety of sources on the issue, so I won’t repeat them […]

  10. […]  Attorney Robert Ambrogi wrote an interesting piece on the topic recently, questioning whether LinkedIn endorsements would violate legal ethics.  While this applies specifically to attorneys, it raises an interesting question, and caused me […]

  11. […] As time went on, LinkedIn tried to find more ways to provide value. It has added editorial content and tried to make it more attractive for users to add their own content. Even more successfully, it added a feature last year that allows you to “endorse” someone for their skills with a single click. It’s completely frictionless – suggestions appear on the LinkedIn page for you to endorse a friend or colleague with a single click, no thought required. It’s just a professional version of “liking” something on Facebook, and yet it’s hard to resist sending a few endorsements out when you go by the LinkedIn page. Here’s a thorough explanation of LinkedIn endorsements. Interesting question for lawyers: if you get an unsolicited endorsement that is false or misleading, do you have an ethical duty to remove it? Opinions are mixed. […]

  12. I’m a marketing director, not an attorney, but I never cease to be amazed by the number of LinkedIn users who “whine” about (supposedly) being endorsed by people they “don’t know.”

    One can only endorse–and be endorsed–by someone he or she is connected to on LinkedIn. Note LinkedIn’s Terms of Service and ubiquitous reminders “not to connect with anyone you don’t know personally.”

    In short, if you’re getting endorsed by people you don’t know: it’s your own fault.

    I realize this doesn’t address the ethics questions raised by the post (questions which I think are very important and I’m pleased to see being discussed, but people: stop the charade. You’re not being endorsed by LinkedIn users you don’t know.

    And if you “are,” then we might ask the attorneys on this forum how they feel about willfully violating a social platform’s legal terms of use.

    Best,
    MrK

  13. Great article. As a new attorney working on a new website, I realize there are more challenges than I originally imagined in my efforts to get going.
    The amount of information about one can not do is overwhelming. Who knows how technology will have changed in the next 10 to 20 years.

  14. […] Rules? by ABA Legal Affairs Writer, Rachel M. Zahorsky. She was following up on the blog post Do LinkedIn Endorsements Violate Legal Ethics? written by Robert […]

  15. […] fall within the purview of what is considered unethical.  To this end, it is important to note the recent debate about whether endorsements may violate a lawyer’s ethical obligations.  Specifically, in […]

  16. DTrevino says:

    I was really surprised by how many people endorsed me in areas that I do not practice. I would prefer no endorsement to one that is fictitious.

  17. […] unlike on LinkedIn — where endorsements from those unfamiliar with a lawyer’s skills can raise ethical concerns — endorsements here come from other lawyers in the firm, colleagues who have worked with a […]

  18. […] Ambrogi, R. (2014). Do LinkedIn’ Endorsements Violate Legal Ethics? Retrieved from http://www.lawsitesblog.com/2013/05/do-linkedin-endorsements-violate-legal-ethics.html […]

  19. […] be revised or deleted. In Virginia, for instance, “the lawyer cannot permit to remain on his LinkedIn page a client recommendation that says the lawyer is the “best personal injury lawyer in town” […]

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