The Impact of Social Media on Trust and Reputation with The Georgia Injury Attorney Joshua Branch

he legal world, often perceived as rigid and slow-moving in the face of digital innovation, is currently undergoing a seismic shift. Law firms, now more than ever, recognize the necessity of modernizing their content marketing strategies to maintain relevance and competitiveness.

Welcome to the newest episode of our podcast series, where today’s topic is the novel content marketing strategies custom-made for law firms as we progress through 2024. Our guest today is not just any professional but Joshua W. Branch, a luminary in the sphere of personal injury law.

Joshua W. Branch is a dedicated personal injury attorney with 18 years of experience representing clients in Athens and Atlanta. Known for his passion for helping individuals over corporations, Josh has been immersed in the legal profession since he was 16, working in a law firm as a high school student. This early exposure, coupled with an inherent ability for clear and concise argumentation, marked him as a future lawyer from a young age.

Joshua W. Branch has earned the AV® Preeminent™ Rating from Martindale-Hubbell®, the highest possible accolade for an attorney in terms of ethical standards and legal ability. This rating signifies the zenith of professional excellence and is only bestowed after an attorney has been scrutinized and endorsed by their peers – members of the bar and the judiciary.


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Interview Transcript

Casey:

Welcome to the Lawyer Mastermind podcast. Today I’m joined by Joshua Branch. Joshua Branch is a seasoned personal injury attorney and the managing partner of the Law Office of Joshua Branch, specializing in personal injury trial work for the past 9 years at your firm and for the last 20 years you’ve been licensed in Florida and Georgia. Thanks for joining us today, Josh.

Josh:

Thanks for having me Casey.

Casey:

So today we’re going to dive a bit into social media and specifically social media and its impact on personal injury claims for attorneys representing plaintiffs. What screening practices do you recommend regarding a client’s social media history before accepting a case, if any?

Josh:

Personally, we don’t screen social media prior to accepting a case. We do know it’s an integral process now in terms of whether it’s adjusters, defense attorneys, they will scour a person’s social media history. We do bring it up. We generally just only take serious personal injury cases and wrongful death because at that point in time, whatever’s in their social media, we just handle it and address it as it comes. We always inform the client, never alter, edit, modify their social media, leave it as is. But we also instruct them to kind of pump the brakes on the social media until the case is resolved. Sometimes they listen, sometimes they don’t. And so we just handle it as it comes.

Casey:

Okay, got it. So there’s no particularly screening that you’re doing upfront, and I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a situation where you’ve taken on one of those cases and then noticed any red flags. Are there any red flags that you would watch for? 

Josh:

There have been situations where you see something and it might go ahead and lend itself to an eyebrow raising curiosity, but the way I kind of look at everything, whether it’s an interpretation of social media or the way it’s being portrayed, is how will a jury look at this? Because the vantage point in which we look at everything, and so I think when you look at one moment in time on social media, it can be extrapolated into things that aren’t necessarily fair or true. Someone might want to say this one moment in time where someone is smiling should be extrapolated across their entire life for the last five years. Just because they’re smiling in one photograph on their Instagram account means that there is nothing wrong with them. And obviously I’m speaking in hyperbole a little bit, but you get the idea. And so my idea is just to combat that notion with the truth and that’s where we have a myriad of different ways to go ahead and combat that. If it does arise, ideally it does not arise, but if at times it does, we can handle it.

Casey:

Sure, and that makes sense. When you sign a new case, are you advising clients on how to manage their social media presence during an open claim? 

Josh:

We do tell clients from the outset that we would prefer if they would refrain from engaging in social media during the duration of their case litigation up until resolution, whether that’s a verdict or some type of meaningful resolution prior to that, sometimes the clients listen, sometimes they do not. Again, we don’t tell them to do anything out of the ordinary other than that. And so at the same time, there have been numbers of cases that come to us and it would be a horrific incident and they might’ve posted something about the incident and it would generally be sometimes it’s a bloody mess on their Instagram. And so at that point in time too, it’s the flip side of the coin, right? It’s one of those things to where it’s like, okay, let the adjusters, let the defense attorney see this. It bolsters the veracity of what we’re going after.

Casey:

Got it.

Josh:

Everything that we do, and the way I look at things is foundationally just built upon the truth. And so as I mentioned previously, if there is something that is eyebrow raising or a little curious on someone’s social media, after we’ve engaged in litigation, we generally tend to find things before adjusters do. And so we can handle that in-house and I’ll call on a client and say, we’ve got to have a meeting. What the hell’s going on with this? Because when I first see this thing, it really flies in the face of what we’re doing and give them a chance to explain. And 99% of the time they have a very valid rationale behind it. And that’s what I need and that’s what I tell every client. I say when we sign up, we’re going to be joined at the hip for sometimes 3, 4, 5 years. And so we have to be completely candid with one another. And so we have to have that level of honesty and just no holds bar just disclosure of what’s going on as to social media. Very seldom have we had anything that comes up to where it is something that is very troublesome. So we’ve been very blessed and fortunate with that.

Casey:

Okay. Well that’s good. It sounds like even though you’ve kind of encouraged clients after you’ve signed them to take that maybe pause approach that you’ve also used it for strategic ways too. I like the examples that you provided because that was kind of a unique angle that I hadn’t really thought of. If they did, if there was something traumatic posted there and then the way that you guys stick to the truth because one of the problems, and maybe this is a Google problem, maybe this is another problem, but if you go searching on Google right now, for example, and hey, should I use social media during my trial like everything or just during my personal injury case, they’re just going to get that first piece of advice, which is turn it off, get rid of it. But it’s interesting to hear about just kind of another scenario that you provided there. So I like to hear that. 

Josh:

And hands down, I do agree with the notion of, and like I mentioned, we tell clients back off of it, sometimes that might fall upon deaf ears and at the same time, perhaps it’s taken a while, a perfect world, every client, as soon as a horrible thing happens, they call us within 24 hours. We can advise them, counsel them, don’t post things, but sometimes it might be a little bit later within their treatment and they’ve already posted things and like we’re talking about, sometimes there can be some things on there and also there can be some things on there that might lend itself towards identifying witnesses.

Casey:

Good point.

Josh:

And things of that nature. There definitely can be a downside, there’s no doubt. But at the same time I’ve yet to come across any type of social media that we have seen into litigation or prior to litigation that upon inspection and discussion with the clients, I’ve been okay with it. There’s been nothing. Now granted, I have had some colleagues and friends who have, I’m pausing because of the words I was about to say. I don’t know what the rating level on this podcast is, but go for it. They had their asses handed to ’em in trial when they had this type of social media that completely impeached their client and they were completely unaware of it. I’m a firm believer and as long as I know about something and I have an honest explanation for it, we can handle it.

Casey:

Yeah, good. Well, I love that approach. And you had mentioned, I think several times now about basically people aren’t always paying attention or taking your advice. Is there a percentage that you would say that people follow that versus don’t?

Josh:

It’s a slim percentage that don’t and it generally falls into the realm of a certain age demographic. I’m a little bit older, but we see, I think people in their twenties, early twenties especially, I think they’re almost conjoined to their social media. It’s like a piece of who they are.

Casey:

Yeah, our identity.

Josh:

Yeah, it truly is. And I think that could be a podcast in and of itself, but I dunno how much it’s applicable to the practice of law and social media, but the percentage I would say is 2, 3, 4%. It’s slim. It’s very, very slim.

Casey:

Okay, got it. Just since we went down that road a little bit, do you use any social media for your firm, for any of your own advertising?

Josh:

We do most of the major ones. Facebook or Meta, Instagram, Twitter, or X. There’s some out there we don’t, but the major ones we do and we just kind of highlight different cases, celebrate holidays such as Martin Luther King Day or various holidays and things like that. We had a really good verdict in a very rural town in December of ‘23, and so we had a post on that and things. 

Casey:

Got it. No, that’s great. Of course, getting that in front of people that don’t know about you, they can see how you can actually help them. That’s a real story, a real kind of marketing approach. But before I nerd out on marketing, let’s go and bring it back a little bit around. You post things on social media for your firm. Some of your clients might post things on social media, which could be good or bad. Are there any evolving legal arguments that you’re aware of about the discoverability of social media evidence?

Josh:

Oh, a 100%, absolutely, a 100% there is, and it’s a great question by the way. There are various jurisdictions who have varied rulings, but for the most part it’s social media and it depends on the settings, which makes sense. If the client had a private setting and then you go into litigation and once you’re in the midst of litigation, the client had maintained and always had this private setting on her social media account, we have stood firm that none of that is discoverable without a court order. We get heavy pushback. And flip side of that too is we ask the client, Hey, did you post anything that’s germane to this litigation? And if there is, we’ve taken some sifted through and say, okay, here’s a picture of, say it’s a car crash case, here’s what he or she posted on the day, but we’re not going to give you a fishing expedition to go through and look at everything his or her life when this is in a private setting. I do think on the flip side of that, if it’s on a public setting, it is hard to say they can’t. And at the same time, if it’s in a public setting, they probably already got it anyway. And that’s the delineation is the public and private setting an honest discord with your client about what’s going on here and then seeing for yourself what is going on on their social media. And if there’s nothing on there that’s relevant whatsoever, then we go ahead and fight the fight.

Casey:

Okay, that makes sense. And we talked a little bit about already we touched on two subjects that kind of come together and one of them is for maybe younger generations, there’s a whole creator kind of community out there now, whereas people’s jobs to just create content on social media, they get paid by those views or clicks, watches, things like that. And so they have developed their whole personality perhaps on creating TikTok videos and recording their whole life. So maybe you haven’t experienced this yet, but it’s probably only a matter of time before you have a client that is some sort of social media influencer. And you touched on this, the other part of this already, which is the question I’m getting to, which is how do you handle situations where maybe you have one of these influencers and their public social media appearance contradicts the severity of their injuries, for example.

Josh:

If that were the situation, I really have a hard time moving that case forward.

Casey:
Fair enough.

Josh:

We’re going back to earlier just the truth. And part of truth lends itself to trust. Earlier in my career, some 15 plus years ago, I had a case that was a really good case and it was a sad situation and without going into too many details to bog it down, there were some very real severe injuries that was lending itself towards the client not being able to walk without a lump for the rest of his life. And the doctors backed it up. And then lo and behold, I had the defense attorney come in, they had been surveilling my client. He came in and he was like, I’ve never done this before because I want you to see this. And it flew in the face of everything my client had testified to in his deposition,

Casey:

Ok

Josh:

Basically proving he was a liar. And so I called him in and I just asked him, I was like, lemme ask you about this again. Lemme ask you about that again. And he just stood firm and was tearful and he could have won an Oscar and if it hadn’t, so literally I flipped around the screen, I said, well, explain this to me. It was five different incidents that just flew in the face of what he said, and I had to let him go and some other attorney picked up the case and I’m sure they did quite well with it. Despite that, I just can’t good conscience do that because I need to be able to look at each of the 12 jurors in the eye and tell them the truth. And the funny part of it too is that I’m not a good poker player. I think most people look at lawyers and think that, you know what?

Josh:

These guys can sell anything. They’re saying anything. They’ll say anything just to help move their case in the direction they want. And perhaps there are some, but I can tell you right now, I’m not that guy, so I need to believe in your case. But if I do believe in your case it’s unwavering, I don’t care what comes up as long as I believe in it, unless I have something like I said earlier, some kind of demonstrable evidence that would change my opinion. I know I went on a far tangent, so hopefully that answers your question.

Casey:

It definitely does, and I appreciate that and I appreciate your honesty too. I think that’s how you build trust and build a long-term firm like you’re doing. And it reminds me of an article I read recently on NBC. Actually, this one actually took place in Ireland though a woman was awarded an $820,000 settlement. But then basically the courts, they vacated it because on social media, I guess it could have just been a newspaper. She won a Christmas tree throwing competition towards the end of this even though she was left in lifelong debilitating pain. So these situations are bound to arise, but I don’t know if you saw that one on the news. That was an interesting one.

Josh:

Yeah, I did see that. Yeah, I saw that and I’ve heard it discussed as well, it should be, and this is the job too, to where you do the best you can. And who knows? I like to hope I’ve never duped like that with a Christmas tree throwing client. And I’m hard pressed too, because that’s one thing I think I find very curious is a lot of people will say, I’m not out to do anything or take advantage. I tell them it’s like nobody’s taking advantage of anybody because we could go into court and speak to blue in the face about what we think, and you can testify about what you think, and all we do is serious personal injury work, but unless it’s buttress and bolstered by your physicians and your surgeons and their opinion as to the causal relation of what you’re going through, it doesn’t mean a thing. And so it has to either be this intricate network of conspiracy where all the doctors and the nurses and the surgeons and the hospitals and the EMS and everyone is involved in this, or the flip side of it’s just the damn truth. And that’s what throws me poor choice of words upon unintended about the Christmas tree throwing lady. It’s like, how in the world was she able to do everybody? I just don’t know the answer to that one.

Casey:

Yeah, I speak with a lot of attorneys and sometimes I speak with, I’m trying to think of a nice way to say this, but there’s some firms that I’ve spoken to in the past that are just like, Hey, I just need a lot of cases in the door every month, every single month. I don’t care if they’re serious injury because it’s more of a churn and burn. And when you focus on the types of cases you do, these bigger serious injuries, higher value, catastrophic injury type thing, wrongful death, you’re more concerned about that reputation and that trust with the client and working with them throughout this long period versus just settling quickly and kind of moving it through the door. So just a little tangent there by me, but I just want to say that I appreciate that about everything, the way that you’ve explained everything. It sounds night and day from some people I’ve spoken with.

Josh:

Well, thank you Casey. And you’re exactly right. We are a very low volume firm. We take every case and we put in a lot of detail and time into each one. Taking a smaller amount of cases allows us to put in that time and effort to each. And we most certainly don’t have any minimums and no offense everybody’s world, do what you want to do, just don’t hurt other people and be kind. But we’re most certain, not a settlement mill, but there definitely are some out there hands down, there are some out there, and you’re right, I think they just take any case that calls and it doesn’t matter. And that’s certainly not the way we operate, but been very fortunate and very blessed from the number of clients that we’ve handled in the past to have built this up to where it’s we’re at a place now I can tell you Casey, that after nine years of running this firm, the trajectory just keeps on pointing north and it’s just a miraculous thing and we’re very, very blessed.

Casey:

Yeah, I think that’s what happens when you develop a reputation in a brand and you’re not kind of just doing the fly by night stuff, that quick stuff. And to your point, there could be plenty of firms out there that are moving through cases quickly and have the client’s best interest in mind. But I have seen internally the opposite before, and that I think is where my frustration was coming from where it’s like, Hey, we need to meet payroll. Let’s settle these cases. It’s like is that in the client’s best interest?

Josh:

Exactly. And I’m somewhat disillusioned by the notion that somebody, my ex would do that. I’m sure they are. I just don’t know how somebody would sleep at night literally dealing with someone’s life. And a lot of times too, what you do for them now have ripples for the rest of their life. And if you can’t pick up the mantle and go ahead and be passionate about helping somebody with that, then I think you need to go ahead and pivot to another career.

Casey:

Yeah, exactly right. Wrong business. So just to get a little bit back on track here, when we’re talking about the social media side of things, do you think that the line between public and private information online is blurred at all? And are there any ethical boundaries attorneys should be aware of when investigating social media or is just if it’s public, I guess it’s fair game.

Josh:

We will always abide by the letter in the spirit of the law a 100%. But I do think if something is obtainable through a Google search or just opening up open access, if it’s open to everybody, then I think that’s fair game Now. We would never try anything underhanded to try to, we’ve actually had a defense attorney try to friend. We were able to track it back. Somebody from their office tried to friend one of our clients on their social media so they could access the social media and that’s down low and dirty. We would stoop to any type of level that certainly won’t name any names, but we were able to figure out who it was by. The client called and said, I don’t know this person. It seems to be a little curious. And so we tracked it back and it was actually an agent of that defense firm. I just picked up the phone, I was like, come on, come on. You’re better than that. Yeah.

Casey:

Wow. Yeah, that’s horrible. I think I’ve heard of that in the debt collector realm on that type of scenario where they’ve tried to do that to maybe locate people or something. But that’s interesting. I hadn’t heard it from that perspective yet.

Josh:

This is not frequent. I can only think of one instance when that happened, but that was a jaw dropping moment where it was like, damn, really? You would stoop that low?

Casey:

Yeah, it’s crazy. And so much of everybody’s live are online now, so some people are not very discerning to that. Maybe some of those clients that you’ve spoken to, the notoriety might be important. And so those friend requests are important to accept. At least they were discerning in that case as well and didn’t just kind of automatically do it. People that wouldn’t do that. 

Josh:

Yeah, good point.

Casey:

Are there any implications of social media posts? We’ve mainly talked about your clients, for example. What about by their friends or family witnesses involved in a, how can these affect a potential claim? 

Josh:

It’s a great question, and it most certainly can. We have what we categorize as before-after in trials and even in discovery, basically a friend, a family member who recognizes what the client went through and can testify as to what the client has seen ability wise beforehand, and then post-incident and what that has put on his or her life. And I think the same, we’ve never had it come up, but I don’t see why it wouldn’t come up to where, because it all is based on credibility and the truth, right? So if before-after witness, as you had deemed a family or a friend has something on his or her social media that contradicts what their testimony is, well absolutely they’re going to be impeached and then they’re going to lose credibility. Whereas at the end of the day, and I always tell my clients this because it’s just the God’s honest truth is that credibility is the battle we always have to win because we walk into a courtroom, most jurors look at plaintiffs and plaintiff’s attorneys with a little bit of a raised eyebrow with a little bit of, Hey, what’s going on here?

Josh:

And so I think it’s so important that we are the ones who, from the outset, establish that we’re the truth tellers. We’re the most credible people in the room who are going to be the kindest, most polite people in the room. And that doesn’t mean you can walk all over. It’s quite the opposite. We’ll be aggressive when we need to be aggressive, but at the same time we will own the credibility battle. So I think that whether it’s an eyewitness or before, after witness, their social media most certainly could impeach their testimony. Or the flip side of that is their social media could also bolster their testimony. If an eyewitness came upon the scene of an incident and happened to videotape that and put it on his or her social media, and then they come testify about it in court, well, at that point in time now you’ve actually got a visual aid that they can offer that being a true and accurate depiction of what they saw that night. And now here we go, we’ve got actual video of the incident itself where it might otherwise not have existed.

Casey:

Okay, cool. Well, that’s pretty much most of the questions that I had. What, if anything, would you like to share with our audience as well that we didn’t cover?

Josh:

No, no, no. You have been great. I can’t think of anything. I’ve enjoyed this. I’ve absolutely enjoyed the dialogue and I can’t think of anything that you missed if we’re sticking with the theme of social media, I do think, and this probably dates me, but you can also see some of the gray in my hair. To me, I think that people are so conjoined with it nowadays that to me it seems like a little bit of a social dilemma, but we’re starting to tangent off the legal world into more of the state of social media. To me, I think it’s overvalued just in people’s world.

Casey:

Oh, okay. Yeah. And

Josh:

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy it. I think we all enjoy it, but I think as we mentioned earlier, I think that it can become somewhat too much of an identifier for somebody. But at the same time, when it comes down to the legal realm, I think that we’ve touched on most of the high points and can, I think it’s like anything else in life depends on how it’s used. It can have great positive influences and great positive effects as you were mentioning earlier, hands down, we take advantage of that to get our name out and publicize to the public about certain and be completely just frank and candid. Most of these are self-promoting type of situation. We’re not going to put anything on social media. But at the same time too, I think it has a great, great positive angle, but at the same time too, it can have some downsides. And we have been fortunate at this point in time, knock on wood, that we’ve never had anything that’s come up where’s been detrimental to a case. I’m sure one of those things that’s a matter of time maybe, but hopefully not. And it’s a very interesting world and it’s ever evolving, and so it’s going to be interesting to see what the future holds.

Casey:

Absolutely. I think to kind of circle back on what you were starting to talk about there too is yeah, you see that social media can become like an addiction I think to probably a lot of people as well. We talked about it being their identity, but also the amount of time spent on there. So there’s a balance, and I wonder if that’s going to change in your industry moving forward. I guess we we’re going to see any changes there, but at the same time, you run a personal injury firm, where’s the balance to you using social media to continue to market your firm moving forward as well? Will that shift? Will that be an area that might eventually take away a bit more business from Google or things like that? I mean, I hope not because that’s what I do, but it’s something that I’m always thinking about. 

Josh:

I think it’s a smart thing for all of us to think about as we look towards the future, just how will we navigate these road social media? And I think there’s a number of different podcasts I know that have a social media presence. I’m happy they do because a lot of them, I wouldn’t have known about it before their social media presence.

Casey:

Exactly.

Josh:

I know Lawyer Mastermind podcast is one in which I’m very happy to be invited to here today. And I know that it is definitely gaining a lot of traction in the legal world. You all’s social media presence is growing and growing to my understanding.

Casey:

Yeah, sure. It started during Covid stopped for a bit and now we have a renewed energy and focus of doing this. I’m all about spreading good and useful information, and I think it’s important to talk to smart people, experts in the areas. And in this case, you, Josh, and I love sharing good information. There’s so much crap out there, which is the other side of social media, which I won’t go down that rabbit hole right now, but I have plenty to complain about the bad information on social media. I’m anti that. So the more I can do to get good people to be able to spread their wisdom to the right people, the better. I love that all day long. 

Josh:

I love that you’re doing it too, Casey.

Casey:

Appreciate it. Well, thank you so much for joining us, Josh. Now if anybody is or knows a relative has a friend that might need to contact a personal injury attorney in Georgia, where can they find about The Georgian injury attorney? And I just gave part of that away.

Josh:

Yes, you did. A spoiler alert. So they can always go to our website, thegeorgiainjuryattorney.com. And we are very accessible. We have offices, Athens, where our primary office is. We have satellite offices in Atlanta, one on the Georgia Coast in Darien. And as I think we touched on earlier, I’m still licensed to practice in Florida, so occasionally I’ll cherry pick some cases, go to Florida as well. But yeah, if anybody’s ever curious wants to reach out, they can go to thegeorgiainjuryattorney.com and we have forms to fill out or there is a number they can reach us. We’re available 24/7 and we’re very humbled and blessed to be able to help so many people and ideally make changes in people’s worlds for the better. We wrapped up a case in December for a young man. It was a horrible, horrible situation and he had a great, great recovery, thank God. And now he’s bought his house. He has a house that he’ll live in for the rest of his life and he just got engaged. And it’s nice to see the full evolution. And so I’m very happy, and you can tell I’m not short on words either.

Casey:

Great. That’s good. I love to hear that story too. You changed somebody’s life. They were in a dire situation. They obviously worked with the right person that spent the attention to detail on their case, and you have literally changed their life. And that’s a story I would love to share and promote and tell all day long. So I mean, that’s great.

Josh:

Well, thank you. And one of the funny things too, if we have time, just a quick caveat on that situation is that there were companion cases in this and people had literally dropped these cases. They didn’t put in the time or the effort to look because we were able after thorough investigations, obtain and find an umbrella policy that existed that multiple other firms had actually turned their face, that they dropped these cases. It was a great, great thing, and you’re right to be able to see somebody go through the worst moment in his life and then to see him come up the other side in a very positive life-changing way, it’s very gratifying.

Casey:

That’s amazing. Well, you make sure to keep up the great work. Love to hear it and appreciate you taking the time to join us today and all the work that you do for all of your clients and staff and everything. So thank you so much.

Josh:

Really appreciate the opportunity to talk to you, Casey. I’m always here if you want to do this again. I really appreciate it. You’re doing great work here. We’ll be promoting the Lawyer Mastermind podcast too.

Casey:

Sounds good. Appreciate it. Thanks Josh.

Josh:

Have a great day.