Rarely has the adage ‘Never put anything on the internet you would not want read out in court’ been so aptly demonstrated.
First we had the toe-curling airing at the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal of email exchanges between DLA Piper partner Nicholas West and a client. As well as uses of the word ‘klunt’, they mentioned the ‘dangle on your dongle’ and a ‘graphite shaft’ (a golfing reference, m’lud).
West admitted breaches of SRA principles and was fined £15,000.
Then came the row over the Twitter account of niche education law firm Baker Small. A late-night exchange with parents who had faced the firm at special educational needs tribunals escalated when @bakersmall tweeted a picture of a kitten that appeared to be yawning, with the message: ‘Some great tweets received today from people who just see a one-sided argument… just shared them with my cat… .’
The Daily Mail weighed in under the headline ‘Lawyers bragged of “great win” over disabled pupils.’ Ouch. Within days, and despite a full apology, seven councils said they had cancelled or were reviewing contracts with the firm.
Obiter was reminded of the Ratners disaster in 1991 when the chief executive of a jewellery chain wiped £500m off its value with a single ill-considered (and now often misquoted) throwaway line in a well-received speech.
Of course, social media is tricky for small firms lacking PR firepower – though Obiter notices on Baker Small’s website that the firm’s practice manager (who had nothing to do with the tweets) is an alumnus of public relations giants Burson-Marsteller and Ogilvy.