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News : Use of Facebook "Friend" Request Spells Ethics Trouble for Paralegal

A New-Jersey law firm is facing ethics charges for using Facebook in an inimical and potentially unethical fashion.

Two lawyers allegedly instructed a paralegal to "friend" a personal injury plaintiff so that they could view information on his Facebook page that was not otherwise publicly available.

The ethical issues emerged during a deposition, when one of the lawyers involved asked very specific questions about the plaintiff that raised suspicions.

According to the Office of Attorney Ethics charges, the "friend" request by the paralegal was made "on behalf of and at the direction of the lawyers."

At first, the paralegal was able to freely gather information from the plaintiff's Facebook page, but after the plaintiff upgraded his privacy settings so that only friends had access to the information shared on the Facebook page, the paralegal sent him a friend request, which he accepted.

The paralegal's billing entries show that she researched Facebook and MySpace to find information about the plaintiff, retrieved photos, profile views, and comments and made "voluminous screen shots of comments made by plaintiff on [his] friends' pages." She also gathered photographs and information from Facebook concerning the plaintiff's brother and sister, two of his friends, and two witnesses.

The lawyers are fighting the ethics charges claiming that while they directed the paralegal to conduct general Internet research, they never told her to make the request to be added as a "friend", which, in the end, gave them access to Facebook pages that contained information that the plaintiff did not wish to share publicly and had protected through Facebook's privacy settings.

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Facebook privacy issues by Mihaela Zeinali (not verified)