The following article was written for the ABA’s Law Technology Today
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According to Nielsen, Internet users continue to spend more time with social media sites than any other type of site. At the same time, the total time spent on social media in the U.S. across PC and mobile devices increased by 99% to 121 billion minutes in July 2012, and that was four years ago! In this month’s LTRC Roundtable Discussion, we asked members of the LTRC Board, “How do you use social media in your law practice or legal profession?”
Dennis Kennedy (DK), Britt Lourish (BL), Chad Burton(CB), Steve Embry (SE), Aaron Street (AS), Allison C. Sheilds (ACS), Natalie Kelly (NK), Sofia Lingos (SL) and Mark Rosch (MR).
Do you maintain a blog or any social media for your practice or legal profession? Why or why not? If so what platforms do you use?
DK: I’ve had a blog since 2003. I was a very early user of Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. I’ve co-authored books on LinkedIn and Facebook and spoken and written for many years on the use of social media by lawyers. I also podcast and have experimented with many social media platforms, some of which no longer exist. I saw blogging as a way to have my own printing press with a potentially unlimited audience. It’s hard for me to imagine not having a significant social media presence.
BL: We do. Why or why not? We believe our clients expect updated information and content, tips and tricks, and other helpful advice from us on an ongoing basis and it also improves search engine optimization to our site to have fresh content regularly. In regards to which platforms we use, we are actually in the process of a revamp, so stay tuned…
CB: I used to have a personal/business-y blog, but I became bored with it. I write occasionally for Curo’s blog, when my partner Nicole sufficiently bugs me to do it. I do use Twitter and Facebook on a regular basis to consume info, share (mostly dumb) stuff, interact with those in the legal industry, and occasionally troll people like Dan Lear from Avvo.
SE: My firm maintains several blogs. I generally participate in the class action and financial services blogs. We generally try to rotate posting in these among those with an interest in the field for posts so that we don’t go took long without posting something and no one is overwhelmed. I also try to regularly post articles on social media personally. Both of these efforts are important I think to try to establish myself as a “thought leader.” An added benefit is that if forces me to keep abreast of and think about new developments and issues.
AS: I’m not always convinced it’s a “blog” anymore, but my site, Lawyerist.com, is active on a variety of social media platforms.
ACS: I maintain a blog for my consulting practice, Legal Ease Consulting, Inc., as well as a social media presence. I have found both my blog and my social media platforms to be helpful in reaching other lawyers, in providing them with valuable information for their practice, in generating discussions, and also as a means to listen to their wants, needs and concerns. My blog was started in 2005 on Typepad, and I have continued to maintain it there. I use a number of social media platforms, mainly LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, and though I have a Google+ profile, I have not used that platform as much as the others.
NK: I have a Georgia practice-specific blog that is co-authored with our Assistant General Counsel, and we cover practice management, technology, and ethical topics mainly. I also maintain a Twitter account and following @NatalieRKelly, and a LinkedIn presence for my professional profiles, practice management information, and current event notices.
SL: Yes, we have a budding blog and utilize LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Google+ for promoting our practice. We use social media to reach our existing audience, attract new clients, and share interesting information. We use more than one platform as we want to exist where our clients are comfortable and increase the ease in which they access information.
MR: We maintain our primary blog as part of our website here. We use it as a way to keep past attendees of our live CLE presentations and owners of our books up to date about new developments in the Internet investigative and legal research topics we cover. The blog, and our entire site, uses the Drupal content management system (CMS). We also maintain a second blog at our CLEseminars.com site to update attendees at our webinar CLE presentations (on the same topics). That blog primarily pulls in posts from our primary blog. The CLEsemianrs.com blog (and that whole site) is built on the WordPress CMS.Finally, we also maintain “blogs” as business pages on various social media sites such as Facebook, Google+, and LinkedIn that are a combination of posts pulled in automatically from our primary blog and original posts (or shares) of other content.
Where in your practice, or in the legal profession, do you think social media has been most effective?
DK: For the profession, blogging and social media have humanized the legal profession and made legal services and legal discussion much more open and accessible than ever before. Just think of the way the SCOTUSblog has become the “go to” resource for coverage of the U.S. Supreme Court. The biggest impact for me has definitely been the friends I’ve made through blogging and social media. My social media presence also helps people keep me in mind as having expertise on certain issues that I care about and want to be involved in. That’s brought me a lot of opportunities.
BL: When I see boutique law firms really getting their name out on the web and coming across professionally as the go to people for a particular type of law in their city/region, it impresses me as proper use of social media. For instance, I have a firm near me that has made smart social media choices and I regularly see tasteful updates on FaceBook, LinkedIn, and Twitter from them with meaningful content about their work in nursing home neglect matters. They aren’t just peppering social media with cheesy gimmicks, ads, or blatant solicitations for business. Instead they provide content that genuinely shows the public that they know their stuff and that this is clearly an area of specialty for them. They definitely make me think, “If I had a matter of that nature, these are the people I should call.”
CB: Social media really has been effective for building relationships—whether it is keeping up on each other’s lives or sharing information.
SE: While I can’t say I have obtained any business from social media directly (and that I know of). It has created a marketplace for all sort of ideas and information about issues and opportunities. For me, coming from a big firm, this is the most important function of social media.
AS: While there are some examples of success for lawyers across all social media platforms, as a general rule, I think Twitter and LinkedIn are the most effective tools for lawyers. Both are more focused on peer networking and influencer outreach than on finding or engaging directly with clients. The last thing anyone wants to see is someone posting to Facebook or Twitter: “Injured in a car accident? Call my law firm!”
ACS: I think different social media tools can be effective for different purposes and for different types of law practices. Twitter is an excellent platform for information gathering, finding articles and news of interest, and getting the word out about new articles, posts, or links.
LinkedIn’s strength lies more in its search capabilities, seeing the connections between different people, and finding out who you might know in a particular geographic location or at a particular company. It’s also good for business discussions within some of the Groups and is a good place to post longer form content if you don’t have your own website or blog. It is a good tool for those with a business to business practice, but I think all lawyers should have a strong LinkedIn presence.
Facebook tends to be a more social platform, and results on Facebook are often better for those with a consumer based law practice, rather than a business practice, but solos can have good results on Facebook as well by establishing a personality, a voice, and a connection to their community and to others who may have similar interests. Facebook can also be a good way to let your existing personal connections know (or to remind them if they already know) what you do by mixing in some occasional work-related posts, without being overly promotional.
NK: I think the benefits of social media in the legal profession lies in it delivering information quickly (Twitter) and in a method that allows deeper coverage via mass syndication (blogging and LinkedIn posts). These delivery formats help with keeping audiences up to date and informed.
SL: Marketing and education. Creating informative and valuable content and pushing it out on your various social media channels can succeed in doing both.
MR: Social media has been a great way for us to keep in touch with the people who have already attended one of our live or webinar CLE presentations or bought one of our books, to further position ourselves as knowledge leaders in those areas, and to attract new readers who are interested in those topics. For us, there are many lawyers who are looking for answers to the question, “How do I find (fill in the blank information for this matter) on the Internet?” and often they are looking for that answer on the Internet. When they do, our social media and blog posts on those topics help them find what they’re looking for. That said, we do also still send out a monthly-opt in email newsletter that summarizes and links back to those blog posts.
Where do you see social media headed and how will this impact the legal profession and or your firm?
DK: It’s more difficult than ever to predict where social media is going. On any given day, you can read or hear that any social media platform is either “essential” or it is “dead” or “dying.” It’s more important than ever to keep experimenting with social media. For legal professionals, it’s hard to see how LinkedIn won’t continue to increase in importance. Perhaps most important for lawyers will be the need to understand how clients use social media in order to competently represent those clients.
BL: While no one has a crystal ball, I certainly think that the trend of consumers to research and look for services online is certainly not likely to decline. But whether they do so on things like FaceBook, LinkedIn, or Twitter, I’m not so sure. I often feel inundated with social media and it can also be a huge time suck. I think some of the novelty of that will wear off and there will likely be a trend toward more filtered data that we control, instead of being overwhelmed with information. I think there will be more robust and effective ways to manage data across any social media platforms and perhaps better pair consumers with topics/products of interest to them. Right now, searching for what you really want to know about across all of the social media platforms is not easy—so I think/hope that may be something we see as well.
CB: Social media is the norm. It is just part of our society and how we interact. That will happen more and more. It will continue to impact the profession in the sense that new and evolving technology can get ahead of the law (i.e., Apple and Uber), people share a ton of crap about their lives that creates fun twists in litigation, and people look to these platforms to figure out how to get a lawyer (or to deal with the legal process).
SE: The biggest problem facing social media is saturation. We are gradually making social media the destination for all sorts of articles, some good and some bad. And it’s often hard to easily distinguished between the good and bad easily. It’s harder and harder to stand out among all the clutter. I think in the future, this will result in more and more specialty groups the audience of which will get to know and respect each other.
AS: Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are becoming more and more focused as content distribution systems, which is great for law firms with blogs or other online content to distribute. At the same time, their models and algorithms all make it hard for low-quality content to get much distribution, so they can be difficult for novice content creators to find success.
ACS: Like other technologies, social media is evolving. Brands are building communities, and that is likely o continue. Lawyers who can find a way to build communities of followers on social media that reflect positively on the firm and its lawyers while providing value in some form to their audience, will likely reap the most benefits. With many of the younger generation getting their news and information through social platforms and mobile sites, lawyers who want their content to get noticed will need to use social media to reach those audiences and to establish their professional reputation.
NK: I think social media has found its place within the legal profession despite its still not having been fully vetted as an ethical communication form between lawyers and clients in all jurisdictions. The overall appeal and relatively quick adoption of the platforms has made the legal profession react and attempt to manage communication methods like social media channels which are natively fluid.
SL: We will continue to see new modes of “social media” develop and existing products expand in order to stay competitive. I think virtual reality will be the most significant next change which could have numerous interesting application in the legal world.
MR: For professional services, I think social media has great potential as a referral engine, as well as a publishing platform. More and more, I see people going online looking for a (fill in the blank professional), who are asking friends/family/people in their social circles for recommendations for the (fill in the blank professional). An individual social media presence takes a Yelp, Angie’s List, or Avvo rating to the next level, because these social media recommendations are coming from the person’s own trusted sources and not just the (often) anonymous reviews or aggregated ratings compiled by the ratings sites.
This isn’t really anything new though. It’s no different from what lawyers should have been doing all along—meeting people, passing out business cards, telling people you meet what you do, etc.—only now they need to be doing it electronically too. In the end though, they still need to provide good, thoughtful, competent service to their clients… or nobody will recommend them.
What’s your best piece of advice for lawyers when it comes to using social media?
DK: Experiment, experiment, experiment. Just as a matter of good client representation, lawyers need to have an awareness and basic understanding of how these platforms work and how people use them. I generally think that there is one social media platform that will feel “right” for each person and it will make sense to focus on that one, and then use another platform or two in coordination. However, it does make sense to sample most of the social media tools on a regular basis. LinkedIn is the platform that makes the most sense for lawyers, blogging probably still gives you the most benefit in establishing your brand, Facebook is still the best for family and friends, and Twitter is the easiest and most fun to use.
BL: It is a balance of too much versus too little. You want enough to get your name out and show relevance in your area of expertise, but don’t have so much that it is annoying or come across as constantly self-promoting. Meaningful and relevant content is key.
CB: Be yourself. You are probably a bit weird. Don’t be afraid to let that show. People will appreciate it.
SE: Consistency. While it’s possible to overdo it, must of us error in the opposite direction. I have discovered having a social media presence requires daily reading, curating 2-3 times per week and then actually posting a 1500-2000 word article a couple of times per month. I try also to make whatever article at post to offer some night as opposed to merely reporting a case result. It means going out on a limb sometimes but certainly it makes the post stand out a bit more. I realize my goals here are ambitious and I don’t always make it but at least it’s a goal. I also try to join specialty groups and post my materials there as well.
AS: Social media is inherently a social activity. As such, it’s much better suited to peer networking than to trying to find clients.
ACS: Remember that nothing on the internet goes away, and that what you think is ‘private’ may not be private—don’t post anything on social media that you wouldn’t want clients to see, and beware of the ethical rules that govern your jurisdiction. But beyond that, think creatively about how you can use blogging and social media platforms to reach new audiences or to reach your existing audience, clients and referral sources in a new way. Make your content about them, rather than making it about you. Choose one platform at a time to master, rather than trying to spread yourself too thin.
NK: Know the rules in your jurisdiction and be professional in your use of any social media channel. It’s easy to get in trouble communicating online, yet sometimes much more difficult to get out of trouble.
SL: Make sure that you never inadvertently expose confidential information or break privilege. With the over abundance of information out there, even without explicit reference, inferences may be made.
MR: Post useful information on topics interesting to you, related to your practice, or both. Just like nobody wants to talk to a person at a party who stands in the middle of the room shouting, “I’m a lawyer and I handle _____ cases!”, on social media nobody (neither potential clients or other lawyers) want to read a steady stream of “Car accident at…” or “Need a ___ Lawyer?”-type posts.
Is there a social media platform you’d like to use more, or one you absolutely try to avoid?
DK: I’d definitely like to post to my blog more regularly, but LinkedIn is the one that I’ve been focusing on the most lately. I’m not much of a user of the photo-driven platforms (e.g., Instagram, Pinterest). As I’ve said, you want to focus on the ones that fit you and limit use of the ones that don’t fit you well, unless your clients are using those platforms—then you have to be there.
BL: I tend to segregate my social media and use my Facebook account for personal things (keeping up with friends and family), and reserve my LinkedIn and Twitter accounts for business. We do have a company Facebook account that is maintained for business as well, but it is separate and distinct from my personal account. I think that you want to be careful how much of your personal views and activities are shown to clients or potential clients and it is wise to have some separation there.
CB: LinkedIn. Oh, LinkedIn. I know I need to use it more, but there is so much noise. As a result, I try to avoid it. I shouldn’t. Maybe I will make it a goal for 2017 to use it more, or never.
SE: There is really nothing I try to scrupulously avoid. Obviously LinkedIn and Twitter are the most important to me and the ones I use the most. I have also tried to create a business group of friends within Facebook to post relevant articles and links to LinkedIn and Twitter posts. The reason I set this up is because people tend to check Facebook more than LinkedIn and I have had some success with this. Although some may feel that that is an unwanted intrusion on their non-work life, I really have found that to be the case. I generally do not use Instagram for work related posts; I have not seen yet how best to do that effectively for legal related posts although I am open to experimenting with it. And I don’t use Google+ since for me it just does not seem to have a big enough following among my contacts to make posting worth while. I also have not used UTube, Meerkat, Periscope or podcasts tools but I think these are going to become more important in the future and I think we need to work with them more to have an effective social media presence.
AS: I should probably use Twitter more. I can’t think of any platforms that should be avoided (even Snapchat), but all of them should be avoided if you aren’t committed to learning how to use them properly.
ACS: I use different platforms at different times and for different purposes. I would like to revitalize my social media presence overall, since my social presence has dwindled a bit recently. I will probably stick to LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, but would like to also increase my usage of Google+.
NK: Personally, I want to become conversant in SnapChat and Instagram because my teenage daughter and my hairdresser use them, and I just desire to be cooler than I already think I am! But seriously, I tend to avoid these channels due to their perceived more casual natures.
SL: I should use Google+ more. Big surprise, Google likes Google+ and it is just as easy to cross-post using a tool like Hootsuite than to neglect it.
MR: I should probably be posting more to LinkedIn more than I do—and maybe this conversation will help remind me to do that. I don’t purposely avoid any social media platforms, but I haven’t really seen the value for us in Pinterest or Instagram, for example.
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