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From a Lawyer's View: Gold Mine: Ethics Compliance Resource

On Wednesday, we presented Part II of our Digital Evidence Series where we talked about social media and the various platforms our clients are using. We are so fortunate to have LaTobia Avent, communications manager and social media guru as part of our team here at OJD. She is always willing and eager to help us learn about this topic that’s so near and dear to her, and that’s really good news for defenders representing the young clients that live – exist! – in this digital world.

I know we hear that phrase a lot – “they live in the digital world” – but to really put that into perspective, check out the data gathered by the Pew Research Center in 2018, finding that 45% of teens reported being “online” almost constantly, and another 44% reporting several times a day. While this study was conducted four years ago in 2018, Common Sense Media recently published their report, The Common Sense Census: Media Use by Tweens and Teens, 2021 in March of 2022, and the bottom line is that “Media use in tweens and teens has grown faster since the start of the pandemic than it has over the four years prior to the pandemic.” (page 3)

The Common Sense Media study consisted of surveying teens about their screen media usage in general, a slightly broader topic than was addressed by the Pew Center study, which focused specifically on social media. But the message is consistent and clear across both studies: our young clients are living in the digital world, and their usage and access of digital devices and social media platforms is increasing.

For frontline defenders, this means we must become familiar with the digital devices and the social media platforms that make up the world our clients are living in. So much of the interaction and communications that our clients are having are through devices, text messages, snaps, photos, emojis, and acronyms, that if we don’t have a basic understanding of these platforms, we cannot be effective in our representation of these youth.

In fact, we have an ethical obligation to our clients to be competent about all relevant aspects of their legal matters: “Rule 1.1 requires lawyers to provide competent representation to clients. Comment [8] to the rule specifically states that a lawyer ‘should keep abreast of changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with the technology relevant to the lawyer’s practice.’ ‘Relevant technology’ includes social media. As stated in an opinion of the New Hampshire Bar Association, N. H. Bar Ass’n Op. 2012-13/05, ‘counsel has a general duty to be aware of social media as a source of potentially useful information in litigation, to be competent to obtain that information directly or through an agent, and to know how to make effective use of that information in litigation.’” (NC Rules of Professional Conduct, 2014 Formal Ethics Opinion 5, emphasis added)

If you missed Wednesday’s CLE on social media or would like to see any of our prior CLE’s on digital evidence or other topics relevant to delinquency defense, you can find them on our defender portal on our website. The biggest regret I have about Wednesday’s CLE is that we didn’t have enough time to let LaTobia talk more about the social media platforms that our young clients are using today. It’s incredible how much she really knows about the topic: the depth of her knowledge, the breadth of it, the history, and the back stories. But the good news is that she is here with us at the Office of the Juvenile Defender and ready to inform, educate, and answer questions for those of us trying to understand the digital world that our clients live in. Please reach out to her with any questions you might have about social media, terminology, acronyms, or whatever other generational interpretation needs you may have. And if you don’t have any questions at all about social media, just ask her what it means to be “meant for the couch.” I can’t put the answer here in the blog, but I’m super thankful she was able to translate it for me when I heard the phrase. TTYL, folks!

Written by, Burcu Hensley, Assistant Juvenile Defender, Office of the Juvenile Defender



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