Conflicts Of Interest In The Age Of Twitter And Facebook: Neutrals Must Find Right Balance

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn – if you are active on any of those sites or on the many others like them – then you no doubt have frequent opportunities to connect.

But what happens for ADR professionals – mediators, arbitrators, and others – when clients are the ones who invite you to connect, follow you, or seek to “friend” you?  In an increasingly plugged-in (and wireless) world, when many of us do our networking or marketing online, the risks of this happening are real: the ABA Journal reports that the North Carolina Judicial Standards Commission reprimanded a judge who friended on Facebook a lawyer in a pending case and discussed the case by posting messages to the lawyer through the social networking site.

Various codes of conduct for mediators, such as ABA and ACR’s Model Standards of Conduct for Mediators (PDF) (which, alas, are aspirational only with no regulatory teeth to back them), exhort mediators to identify and disclose all actual or potential conflicts of interest, including current or past personal or professional relationships with any of the parties, and caution mediators to prevent harm to the integrity of the process and avoid establishing a relationship with any of the participants once the mediation has ended.  These standards, as my favorite ADR iconoclast, scholar Michael Moffitt, has pointed out before, offer little meaningful guidance and don’t tell me whether following someone on Twitter counts as a “relationship”, professional or otherwise. I can however imagine how one side to a dispute might feel were they to see that I’d connected on LinkedIn with their counterpart two weeks after the mediation had concluded.

So what’s a mediator to do in the digital age? What policies do you have in place for dealing with the day a former client seeks to friend you on Facebook ?

                        author

Diane J. Levin

Diane Levin, J.D., is a mediator, dispute resolution trainer, negotiation coach, writer, and lawyer based in Marblehead, Massachusetts, who has instructed people from around the world in the art of talking it out. Since 1995 she has helped clients resolve disputes involving tort, employment, business, estate, family, and real property… MORE >

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