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Social media develops as practice area

Linda Emery works from her office at von Briesen & Roper SC on July 26 in Milwaukee. Emery often focuses on social media issues within her roll at the firm. (
Staff photo by Kevin Harnack)

Not too long ago, a client retained Milwaukee attorney Linda Emery for legal advice regarding a new social media website the client had developed.

Emery, of von Briesen & Roper SC, asked the client how she’d found her. The client said she’d Googled the search terms “Social media” and “Wisconsin attorney,” and Emery was one of just two relevant results among many that weren’t helpful.

Emery is confident that paucity of results is going to change in the next few years, however. She predicts more lawyers will flock to social media as a discrete practice area in the coming years.

Firms outside Wisconsin have created entire social media practice groups, but in state, the movement is slow. There are attorneys successfully making it a niche practice area, though, said attorney Laura Bergus, a blogger for The Lawyerist and a social media policy and technology consultant with Bradley & Guzzetta LLC in the Twin Cities.

Similar to attorneys concentrating in sports law, social media law brings together elements of intellectual property, contracts and employment law, she said.

“Social media is just another form of communication,” Bergus said. “Some people look at it and say, ‘Do we have telephone lawyers or mail lawyers?’ But it is different, because we have these rapidly emerging technologies affecting so many aspects of life, where the law really hasn’t caught up yet and there are so many questions of how it should be appropriately and lawfully used.”

Though social media isn’t specifically part of the curriculum in Professor Bruce Boyden’s Internet Law course at Marquette University Law School, he said the issues associated with social media — such as free speech, defamation and privacy rights — already pervade the course. Boyden said there’s also been a great deal of scholarly writing and student notes about social media in recent years.

The reason there are no social media law groups yet in Wisconsin, Emery said, is “merely a reflection of the fact that most of the industries in Wisconsin are ‘brick and mortar.’ There aren’t a lot of technology companies.”

She believes the social media concentrations will likely start in the larger firms, such as her own, “because they already have volumes of client need.”

But smaller, boutique firms will likely emerge fast on their heels, Emery said.

Boyden said that whether it’s a new practice area, or merely a new twist on existing practice areas, law firms that already have Internet law groups should at least consider listing social media as an additional area of expertise.

“I suspect there are a lot of clients or potential clients out there who might have problems crop up that involve Facebook or MySpace, and they might be thinking, ‘Who should we call?’” he said. “They won’t automatically think ‘Internet law’ or ‘cyberspace law’ — they’re going to be looking for expertise specifically on Facebook or MySpace. So it might be a good idea to advertise as having expertise in dealing with social media issues.”


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