Photo:Ethan Wall of the Social Media Law Firm
Of Counsel - Florida Law
Social studies: Social media and the law
A Miami attorney sees opportunity in social media law.
For seven years at south Florida’s Richman Greer, Ethan Wall focused his practice on intellectual property and social media issues. Then, late last year, he founded his own firm devoted solely to legal issues arising from social media. He spoke to Florida Trend about his endeavor.
Why social media?
“I believe that we should spend our time in life doing things we really enjoy doing and what we find passion in. Seven years ago, I was teaching a class in intellectual property law to a group of lawyers and someone asked me about Myspace and I thought, ‘Myspace? That has nothing to do with trademarks and copyrights and patents.’ And all of a sudden, this lightbulb went off in my head that there were tens of thousands of attorneys who are focused on intellectual property law, but there wasn’t a single one who was exploring the effect of Myspace and Facebook and Twitter on the law and I said: ‘Boy, I enjoy this stuff. Why not explore that area?’
What are some examples of the work?
“I’ve been focusing on helping businesses, financial institutions and startups protect their brands and grow on social media. So, it could be developing social media policies for a human resources department to help manage the legal risks that arise out of employees’ social media use or training employees on what’s the proper way to use social media for marketing in a manner that’s in compliance with federal regulations or advertising laws. Or it could be protecting someone’s brand on social media by making sure they have their trademarks.”
What regulates social media?
“A lot of people think that social media is the wild, wild west because it’s so new and so fast and so expansive, but one of the most important things that I try to emphasize to my clients is that just because social media is a relatively new medium, that doesn’t mean it’s an unregulated medium. Federal labor laws that existed prior to Facebook apply to employees’ social media use now. So part of it is: ‘How do you apply older laws to these new technologies?’ There are also newer laws relating to social media. For example, there are 23 states (not Florida) that have passed a law that makes it illegal for employers to require their employees to turn over their Facebook user names and passwords as a condition of employment. This was a law that never existed before Facebook.”
How do you utilize social media?
“The way that we spend our time in life is so important. Fast-forwarding to the very end of my life, I don’t think I’m going to say to myself: ‘Boy, I wish I spent more time on Facebook or more time tweeting.’ But, that being said, it’s important for me to be on social media not only to understand these issues for my clients, but also to promote myself and my practice. People spend so much time on Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn that it’s important for me to market there and to have that presence. So much of what people’s perceptions are of other people these days is based on what they see and consume on social media. So, it’s important for me to spend time on social media, but it’s also important to put the phone away, get outdoors and enjoy the beautiful Florida sun.”
Ethan Wall, 34
The Social Media Law Firm Miami
Teaching: Adjunct professor, focused on social media law issues, Nova Southeastern University law school
Writing: Books include “Fire over Facebook? A Primer on Protected Social Media Activity in the Workplace and Best Practice Guide for Managing Employee Social Media Use” and “The Social Media Guide for Lawyers”
Philanthropy: Founder, Let’s Plant a Seed, a service organization in south Florida