Attorney Stacie Patterson Identifies Potential Ethical Surprises for Licensed Professionals

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The SEC’s recent approval of “Reg FD,” which allows the use of social media outlets to disseminate public company information, has created quite a stir within professions that highly value confidentiality. Attorney Stacie Patterson, who practices professional license and criminal defense, sees this ruling as another reminder to licensed professionals about the potential for ethical fallout that exists as communication channels evolve.

Issues that were once black and white are now tinged with shades of gray, which can lead to challenges for both licensed professionals and the bodies that provide their licenses.

The SEC’s recent approval of “Reg FD,” which allows the use of social media outlets to disseminate public company information, has created quite a stir within professions that highly value confidentiality, according to a CNBC report. Attorney Stacie Patterson, who practices professional license and criminal defense, sees this ruling as another reminder to licensed professionals about the potential for ethical fallout that exists as communication channels evolve.

“Licensing authorities have always tended to be conservative with regard to behavior they consider to be ‘crossing the line,’ but these days, that line isn’t quite as defined as it once was,” Patterson says. “Issues that were once black and white are now tinged with shades of gray, which can lead to challenges for both licensed professionals and the bodies that provide their licenses.”

Patterson notes that technology is the usual culprit with respect to issues such as confidentiality/privacy, truth in advertising, and dual relationships. “Big brother” seems to be everywhere, facilitated by social media; use of cutting-edge computer technology like the cloud; and the fact that what people say can have a long “shelf life” if it’s memorialized via voice mail or another type of recording device.

Patterson recommends licensed professionals understand that anything they say or communicate, no matter how innocuous they think it is, has the potential to hurt them. She also provides some more specific tips:

  • Set strict boundaries for online friend relationships. It might seem like harmless fun to communicate with strangers, but it can be dangerous.
  • Get familiar with today’s rules regarding confidentiality, which are different than they were in the pre-Internet world.
  • Be careful when putting anything in writing, especially when using informal communications methods like e-mail or social media.
  • Eliminate the hyperbole from any statements made in an effort to be heard above the din, especially on social media sites.
  • Manage files and data with client confidentiality in mind, using reputable hosting companies that have proven technology in place to protect sensitive information.
  • Assume anything that’s put “out there” will be widely disseminated, so choose what’s said carefully, as if supervisors, colleagues and clients will see it.
  • Be extremely careful when entering into any new relationship, especially friendships or business arrangements with patients/clients (which should typically be avoided anyway).

“While some people may like to blame technology for their communications woes, their behavior is at the root of the problem,” Patterson says. “You have the power to edit what you say in e-mails, on social media and to other people, and to safeguard your professional license, you might want to follow the old adage: ‘silence is golden.’”

Stacie Patterson is a San Diego professional license defense attorney. Whether you’re facing a professional complaint or a criminal conviction, Ms. Patterson provides honest, straightforward representation. She also practices criminal defense in the areas of drug charges, sexual offenses, probation revocation and more.

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