General Practice, Solo & Small Firm Division

Know Your Netiquette

Here's the first thing I was ever taught about the culture of the on-line world: Those who share information with others are valued members of the community. The more you share and give, the more valued you are.

Translated, that means: You can become an instant expert and on-line celebrity by spending a few minutes a day talking about your expertise, provided you do it in a way that is noncommercial, nonadvertising, and not obviously fishing for clients.

Answering a question posed in a discussion group or on a mailing list with something that feels and reads like an out-and-out advertisement is a big mistake. For example, it is completely unacceptable to say, unprompted, "Hi, I'm Jane Smith, and I'm a lawyer who helps people get out of bankruptcy. My rates are reasonable, in fact very flexible, and I have lots of satisfied clients I can refer you to if you want to check out my work. Please give me a call if you need bankruptcy counseling." Why is this unacceptable? Because you're not offering anything except your services.

However, you might say: "I recently read a story in the Chicago Tribune that said personal bankruptcy filings are up more than 5 percent since last year. I think I know why--the recession really took a toll on the middle class--and you know, my practice really showed it (I'm a bankruptcy lawyer). I got more phone inquiries in the last quarter of '94 than I did in all of 1993." Here, you're offering information--the reference to the article and your interpretation of the trend--and you're letting people know what you do in a non-sales way.

When you find a discussion group you care to court, become a regular member of that group. Ask questions. Offer answers. Point participants to other useful resources, like books or Web sites. Offer to fax copies of articles you've written or memos you have in your file. Give of yourself. And pretty soon, when someone asks a question that touches on your area of expertise, someone else in the group will say, "Oh, you ought to ask Jane Smith; here's her address. She's really helpful."

Source: Erika Penzer, executive editor of Lexis Counsel Connect

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