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ABA TECHSHOW 2009 TECHNOLOGY TIPS ISSUE

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March 2009 Issue | Volume 35 Number 2 | Web only Archives
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Speaking Out on Social Networking: What the End Users Say

For Speaking Out on Social Networking: Is It a Productivity Bust or Boon for Law Firms, Doug Cornelius conducted a non-scientific survey using a few interactive Web sites to get a better idea about how law firms are using social networking sites, especially the issues relating to the practice of blocking these sites in the workplace. They survey found a that 45 percent of respondents’ law firms do block access to some social networking sites, while 55 percent reported unfiltered access to the Internet.

Yet despite their firms’ policies, when asked to share their thoughts on why these sites are blocked—or why they should not be blocked—the overwhelming majority said blocking was a bad idea.

From the end users’ point of view, here are the arguments for and against blocking social networking sites:

(See the article "Legal Web 2.0 Online Social Networking: Is It a Productivitity Bust or Boon for Law Firms?" for more survey findings)

On the Reasons behind Blocking Social Networking Sites

The "official" reasons are security and bandwidth issues. I believe it's a productivity concern. While these types of sites do have a use for work, you can also waste a lot of time on them. However, if you get your work done, I don't see a problem.

I believe they think it is a time-waster with no value. I believe that they are incorrect, as the breaking news and information shared on these sites is invaluable on a professional level.

The reasons to block are obvious - the risk of attorneys making comments that can put the firm at risk for negative publicity, as well as lower productivity at work. However, I think most/all attorneys understand discretion in terms of what comments they make, and ANY type of web site can be used for distraction/lesser productivity. I think we're entitled to use good judgment and take breaks at work.

Besides the official reasons given, I believe it also has to do with productivity. Sites with more practical use such as Twitter and LinkedIn are not blocked, while sites that are prone to distraction like Facebook and MySpace are blocked, even though they may have *some* practical use.

They're blocked so we don't "waste time" - but I think that’s short-sighted. Partners send their friends a handwritten note saying, "Hey, I saw this article and thought of you." We post it on Facebook. If the number one rule in marketing is to "keep up your network of friends," this block seems counterintuitive.

It’s too much trouble for the IT department to manage. We're also locked down.

A friend at a local public defender's office told me that their over-zealous system administrator blocked access to MySpace, Facebook, and other social networking sites, in an apparent attempt to keep the employees in line and more productive. The problem is that many of the clients (criminal defendants) and alleged victims also use these sites!

They're only blocking YouTube, which I suppose speaks to its potential to offend, which doesn't bother us much. Losing Facebook would stink, but we've all got Facebook on our (personal) smartphones, so it wouldn't be so bad.

Firm blocks eBay for everyone because one secretary had a side business - UNFAIR!

PRO: Why Social Networking Sites SHOULD Be Blocked

Waste of time, and makes the firm look unprofessional.

We don't block them, but we should. I guarantee that productivity would skyrocket if we did, especially sites such as Facebook and YouTube.

CON: Why Social Networking Sites SHOULDNOT Be Blocked

Seems like we have to trust our lawyers on these types of Web sites as well as all the other sites they access. Clients have problems on them we need to be able to address. And our younger lawyers are used to communicating and hopefully developing business this way.

They're not blocked in my firm because our IT team is fairly relaxed, and treat us as responsible adults instead of wicked children. I don't think they should be blocked - most people can make good use of the networking potential of sites. There is always a minority who will waste time, but that's true for all professions and workplaces.

It's not about the Web, but is more about the employee and the work. A bad fit displays itself in many different ways: abusing the phone, copy and/or fax machine, smoking breaks, and meal breaks for example. The Web doesn't create these behaviors, they were already there. Education, monitoring and consequences may be necessary for those not focusing on the job, but if it's not the Web, it'll be something else.

I believe that we're all grown-ups at the firm and can self-monitor. Additionally, as long as my associates get their hours, I don't care how they spend their "extra" time.

I am of the impression that most of these sites should NOT be blocked (perhaps MySpace being the lone exception). I see many of them as useful networking and marketing tools if the attorneys choose to leverage the medium.

Main complaint is the (admittedly purely anecdotal) observation that the more sites that get blocked, the worse Internet performance gets.

They should not be blocked as they are excellent networking tools. They are the quickest way to keep in touch particularly when finding the time to get out for a lunch with a client is tough not only for me but also for the client.

Despite the fact that many people access these websites to "goof-off" or effectively waste work time, these sites also provide innumerable resources that can be used to help facilitate work. Every firm should trust their employees and grant them unrestricted Internet access.

Given that we practice criminal law, it's really handy to be able to look up clients on Facebook. It's also a useful way to communicate with other counsel.

I thought it was hilarious that the latest edition of the CBA's National Magazine finally convinced me to try Twitter, and then when I went to use it I found out it was blocked. So much for mainstream acceptance of the valid work-related uses of social networking sites. Maybe when the cost of mobile data access goes down and we can all afford to have BlackBerrys or iPhones we can get around these frustrating filters.

First, I'm a grown up. If I get my work done, and don't do anything online that could get the firm in trouble, it's creepy and Big Brother-y for them to limit my Internet access. Second, the firm makes more money when I work more hours. If I can take a break and take care of my personal life while at work, I am more likely to work longer hours.

We spend long, long hours at work. The firm should trust its employees to use the Internet responsibly. I wouldn't want to work somewhere where I don't feel trusted.

I'm not sure why these sites should be blocked considering some of the other sites out there are as bad or worse. I do feel that there should be a firm policy in place. I generally only use networking sites for non-work purposes on my lunch break (now), although I always have my personal e-mail open and sometimes use it to contact friends. I suppose we’re less productive when distracted by these things, but it's not like we don't have our phones, etc. I even check Facebook on my phone. I can see why firms block these sites, but it's pretty irrelevant.

I have no idea why the sites are blocked, but it probably has to do with productivity. However, what many firms fail to realize is that junior associates like me, as well as current and future law students, grew up in the Internet age. It is not a time-waster, as many older attorneys might think. It is a way to make plans, to ask questions, to reconnect, to network. More than that, I am used to working in an environment where I take short breaks (3 – 5 minutes) every hour or so, and that is best done by browsing the Internet. If your choice is to use Facebook, it should be allowed. However, of course, this is premised on the idea that people will still be productive. I concede that there is the potential for abuse, but that exists in everything.

If I'm working 10 - 15 hours a day, can't I take a minute break and check in with some of my friends? Good grief!

They should not be blocked. Sites like Twitter and LinkedIn can be a great way to network and generate business. Facebook seems a little more like a time-waster, but nonetheless, if an attorney is meeting his or her hour requirements, there is no need to restrict Internet access.

We're not children. These sites shouldn't be blocked. If I'm managing to bill over 2,000 hours a year, I should have the right to spend 15 minutes on Facebook.

The Net should not be blocked. As long as we meet our billable quota, the firm should not care whether we take breaks on social networking sites. In addition, in this day and age, part of "networking" that all attorneys are encouraged to do is done through, or at least facilitated by, social networking sites.

I wouldn't come to work if they were blocked.

I spend the majority of my life at that horrid office. The least they can do is let me take a break and check my personal items. Sometimes it is the only social outlet I have for the day!

These people are adults. While at work and on work computers, they should know what to do and not do. Taking 5 to 10 minutes on Facebook or MySpace is not a big deal. However, spending a day "hugging," "throwing sheep" and planting a garden instead of billing hours is a big problem.

As an attorney, I feel I should be allowed to access any reasonable site I want to visit. These sites can provide valuable networking opportunities.

Social networking sites shouldn't be blocked. We're adults, not children. It is our responsibility to manage our time and do our work. And someone who would be so distracted by a social networking site that their work would suffer would be equally distracted by anything else on the Internet. What's the next step? Blocking all access but work e-mail and Westlaw?

Definitely do not block! I keep my Facebook screen minimized all day. Clicking refresh on it is a 5 second mental break that doesn't take anything away from my work, but keeps me billing for hours at a time. Without that little amusement, I wouldn’t.

I don't think they should be blocked. I prefer personal accountability to Big Brother. Either we are billing hours or we are not – and if we're not, then we'll have to answer for that. I don't like having the decision made for me.

We are required to give up our social lives to work here. Who needs human contact? Yeah, I do. If I can't see my friends outside work, I might as well look at the pictures of them having fun on Facebook.

I am an associate. I spend 80 percent or more of my life in that office. Taking away chat denies me access to my friends, family and basic social interaction that keeps me going. It is absolutely ridiculous. And to blame it on hackers is ridiculous. All of my other friends are working at firms where they can chat, and none of their firms are getting hacked left and right because of it. If I had known, I would have thought twice about joining the firm. I'm serious!

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