This week, Michigan Lawyers Weekly features a story about jurors tainting themselves by Tweeting from the jury box or accessing the Internet from their mobile phones to learn more about the cases they are presiding on. See Juries all a-Twitter, 23 Mich.L.W.847, July 6, 2009. Like the media, the courts need to adjust to the constantly changing landscape of how we communicate and how we access information. The Internet and mobile devices such as the iPhone or Palm provide jurors and others access to instant information about the cases before them. The Michigan Supreme Court amended rule 2.516 of the Michigan Court Rules to prohibit the use of computers, cell phones or other electronic devices during the trial to obtain information on the case. This is mandatory, not discretionary. The rule was amended in response to a number of cases being thrown out due to curious jurors, researching defendants and witnesses and then Tweeting their opinion before any opinion was rendered.
Social media sites, such as Facebook, Linkedin, MySpace and YouTube also provide excellent opportunities for plaintiff's counsel to mine the Internet for information to throw out a case or force a settlement. Mined appropriately and thoroughly, attorney's can learn a lot about the parties to a lawsuit or potential lawsuit.
And finally, some lawyers are using the Internet, the same way they were using television to argue their client's case in the public eye. Instead of turning to investigative reporters or "problem solvers," they are now turning to the Internet to bolster their client's position.
In the article, I caution attorneys to do their own due diligence and see what is being said about their clients on-line. This includes social media sites such as Twitter, You Tube, Flickr, various blogs and other on-line feeds and sites. The same is true for the opposing party, including opposing counsel.
Attorneys may want to consider retaining PR counselto monitor the Internet and/or use the Internet and social media to preserve, protect and enhance their clients reputation on-line. Attorneys may also want to consider hiring a computer forensics or e-discovery firm to see what information they can find on-line. For now, attorneys can set up Google alerts, RSS Feeds, or find other ways to monitor the media.
Regardless, we all need to do a better job of monitoring the Internet. Just as we should secure our credit report every six-months to monitor for identity theft, we should periodically Google or Bing our name, our company name, client's name or other key terms we should be keeping an eye out for.