The Firms

June 1, 2010 3:23 PM

Facebook Community Pages Vex Some Firms

Posted by Brian Baxter

On a day when most members of the summer associate class of 2010 began their legal careers, some might be surprised--and we emphasize might in this ever-so-jaded world--to learn what their colleagues really think about their new work environs.

The National Law Journal reports that large, brand-conscious law firms have grown increasingly alarmed by Facebook's new community pages--pages that are automatically generated based on the information listed in users' profiles. Some of the more colorful job descriptions to come out of those profiles include "bimbos" at Baker & McKenzie, "morlocks" at Latham & Watkins, and "slaves" at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.

Facebook spokeswoman Meredith Chin explained to The NLJ in an e-mail how the more unconventional law firm community pages came to life.

"All of those pages were created based on what people had put in their profiles," Chin said. (Unlike the group pages that law firms themselves might already have created for marketing purposes.) "For instance, if someone put 'slave' in their job description for that law firm, it created a Community Page based on that field. These are user-generated descriptions."

The NLJ reports that there up to 500 pages for law firms alone, with varying descriptions for legitimate positions at those firms like partner, associate, paralegal, etc. And then there are the other, ahem, positions, like peon, drone, serf, plankton, you get the idea. The most popular by far, according to The NLJ, is slave.

While most community pages are clearly tongue-in-cheek, The NLJ notes that some firms, many of which are sensitive about their public image, are worried that Facebook users might confuse these "community" pages with the official group pages generated by the firms themselves.

"We care a lot about people saying negative things about us," Reed Smith media and entertainment industry practice chair Douglas Wood told The NLJ. "We monitor and watch our coverage and try to manage our brand. And now, this automatic technology is creating a repository for all things negative--and some positive--but a lot of negative things about law firms, and there's no vetting of anything."

Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, also expressed some concerns about the community pages. Rotenberg, who has been critical of Facebook's privacy policies in the past, told The NLJ that some organizations with a high level of brand sensitivity, like law firms, might lose control of their Web presence through what Facebook users post on their own pages, details that aren't necessarily meant for community consumption.

The NLJ reports that Facebook's recently announced new privacy settings don't appear to address the issue of using individual user information to create community pages.

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