When you read the term “social networking,” most of you probably think Facebook, Myspace, Twitter. Certainly, these are valuable tools, but this article will ignore such generic networks to discuss how a lawyer can use more customized social networking to aid his or her practice, from substantive issues to marketing.
Let’s start with the most important part of practicing law: the actual law. Social networks can be a great help to lawyers who want to learn a first practice area or a new practice area, or to have a question answered when they are “just helping a friend.” You can go to the law library and start reading book after book, or you can reach out to someone who has experience.
If you know you want to practice in a particular area, such as personal injury, then your first stop should be your state or local bar association. In my home state, Consumer Attorneys of California maintains e-mail lists that allow attorneys throughout the state to correspond with each other about substantive issues. If you get a product liability case and do not know how to properly plead it, ask a question. Someone will respond. A client comes to the door with a dog-bite case and you don’t know the value? Ask on the list and people will answer. As you spend time on a list like this, you learn people’s personalities. And if you are lucky, as I was, you meet some great attorneys who act as mentors.
But not everyone knows what specific areas they want to practice in. Especially as a sole practitioner, it is important to be open to a new practice area or be able to assist a client who calls with some bizarre question. Your first step then should be SoloSez. SoloSez is the Mall of America for solos and small firm lawyers. This e-mail list is home to more than 3,000 attorneys from coast to coast, and some internationally, who share ideas, offer thoughts, and answer your questions.
Are you unsure how to probate a will in ? Ask on SoloSez and someone will be able to guide you through it. Do you not know how to get admitted to federal court? Ask a question and ten lawyers will give you 12 different answers. Do you need that one specific form for the Superior Court of California, ? Ask and a local practitioner will be able to provide this to you. As with a state or local association, camaraderie is built on SoloSez. Not only does this allow you to make new friends, it helps you provide better service to your clients. There are other lists, some smaller (such as Sololawyer, which I run), but none have the scope and breadth of SoloSez.
Almost every practice area you can think of has some sort of association. The association may be local (Capitol City Trial Lawyers Association of Sacramento), statewide (Consumer Attorneys of California), or national (American Bar Association). If you have a practice area without an association, you can quickly and easily start your own social network with like-minded attorneys via Google, Yahoo!, or DiscussThis, just to name three prominent services.
Beyond practice areas, it is useful for solos and small firm attorneys, especially new ones, to have social networks related to running a law firm. After all, a law firm is a business not unlike any other business; the service just happens to be the law. Marketing, trust accounts, buying office supplies—are all things you need to run a successful law practice. But how do you learn those things?
Once again, look to your social network. And once again, like the Rose Bowl, SoloSez is the grandaddy of them all. Topics on SoloSez over the last few months include laptops, which computer monitor to buy, and IOLTA accounting. Anything you could possibly want to know is covered on SoloSez, including consideration for riding a bike to work and where to get your pet groomed before bringing him to the office.
There are also specialized lists that can answer questions. Time Matters, a popular case management program, has an official e-mail list to help users; there are also several unofficial lists. I run two marketing lists (one on Google and one on Yahoo!) for solos and small firm attorneys that are dedicated strictly to marketing. Topics range from the Yellow Pages, which most people do not use anymore, to websites and search engine optimization. As with other lists, membership is nationwide. The members are not only attorneys; there are law practice consultants, marketing consultants, industry representatives, and others with information to share on marketing. List members can learn the latest trends in marketing, connect with others who are trying to market, and increase their contacts.
Facebook, Myspace, and Twitter can be a lot of fun. But for lawyers, a customized social network can be far more useful.