Blogging and Social Media

ABA TECHREPORT 2015

Allison Shields

A former practicing lawyer and law firm manager, Allison is currently the President of Legal Ease Consulting, Inc., providing practice management and business development coaching to lawyers and law firms. She is the co-author of several books published by the ABA’s Law Practice Division and also contributes to various blogs, including her own: Legal Ease Blog. Additionally, she provides many resources for lawyers to improve their practices on her website. 

The 2015 ABA Legal Technology Survey Report collects responses from 966 lawyers from all over the US, ranging from solos to firms with more than 500 lawyers, with practice areas as diverse as family law, personal injury, and corporate law. In 2015, the statistics reveal that lawyers, while slowly adopting social media, still seem less inclined to use blogs or Twitter.


Blogging


Among all of the lawyers surveyed, 65% said their firms did not maintain legal blogs, and nearly 9% did not know, leaving only 26% of firms who do blog. This is a slight increase from last year, but in line with 2013 results, and an increase over 2011 when only 14.8% of respondents' firms had blogs.

Respondents in the following primary practice areas were the most likely to report that their firm had a blog: litigation (28%), employment and labor (26%), corporate (25%), and contracts (21%).

According to the 2015 Survey, individual lawyers are blogging even less than the firms. Only 7% of the lawyers responding to the survey personally maintain a blog for professional purposes. Solos are slightly more likely to maintain a personal blog for professional purposes, at 9%. Managing partners were the individual lawyers most likely to maintain a personal blog for professional purposes, at 11.2%. Family law was the practice area of respondents who were most likely to maintain personal blogs for professional purposes, at 8.7%, while commercial law practitioners were the least likely at 1.0%.

The differences in practice areas between firm blogs and personal blogs maintained for professional purposes may largely reflect the differences between large and small firm practices—in larger firms, the firm blog may be maintained by marketing departments or written by several different lawyers. In smaller firms, blogs may be more likely to be written by individual lawyers, whose practice areas are more consumer-oriented.

For individual lawyers who blog, 53% spend less than an hour a week on their blogs, and another 41% spend between 1 and 5 hours blogging weekly. Breaking down the results, it appears that those who spend at least an hour blogging have a better chance that they’ll retain clients as a result.

Less than 3% of lawyers from firms between 50 and 500 lawyers maintain a blog. But among lawyers from firms of between 50 and 99 lawyers who do personally maintain a blog for professional purposes, 100% say they have gotten a client directly or through referral as a result. These lawyers also spent a bit more time on their blogging activities—100% of lawyers between 50 and 99 lawyers spent between 1 and 5 hours weekly on their blogs.

Fifty-two percent of lawyers in small firms (2-9 lawyers) spent between 1 and 5 hours blogging weekly, while 25% of lawyers in firms of 10-49 lawyers spent between 1 and 5 hours, and another 25% spent between 6 and 10 hours weekly on their blogs. Of these groups, 50% of the lawyer bloggers were retained directly or through referral as a result of their blogging.

Overall, among lawyers who blog for professional purposes, 38% have received a client directly or through referral. This is consistent with last year’s results, when 39% of respondents said they received clients from blogging, while 42% said they did in 2011. This change may be attributable to the increased number of legal blogs overall and the proliferation of content on the internet—as more lawyers blog, their influence decreases. But it is also possible that the percentage of lawyers who are retained directly or through referral as a result of their blogging activity is larger than the lawyers perceive, since many clients won’t recall or accurately report how they learned about a lawyer, or may not realize that what they read online was a blog. In addition, a significant percentage (28% this year) report that they don’t know whether they’ve received a client as a result of blogging, and this number has also changed little over the past several years.


Social Media


Survey results on social media are the opposite of the results for blogging—only 24% of respondents said their firms did not participate in any online communities or have a presence on social media, while almost 15% of respondents did not know whether their firms participated in social media or online communities. These numbers have remained relatively steady over the last three years.

LinkedIn still leads the pack as far as the social media platforms law firms participate in most— 57% of law firms maintain a LinkedIn presence, and 35% do so on Facebook, consistent with survey results in the past two years. Other platforms have still not been widely adopted; slightly less than 10% of firms have a Google Plus presence, and only 1.7% participate on Avvo.

Regardless of whether their firms are participating on social media, it appears that individual lawyers continue to use these platforms for professional purposes. Again, LinkedIn ranks at the top, with 73.3% of respondents using the platform, although solos are least likely to use LinkedIn as their social media platform of choice—only 61% of solo respondents do so. Among other groups, approximately 80% of respondents use LinkedIn. Solos are the most likely to use Facebook for professional purposes, at almost 37%, a much larger percentage than lawyers from larger firms, and larger than the overall number of survey respondents who use Facebook for professional purposes (27%). Again, these numbers have remained steady over the past several years.

Perhaps solos gravitate more toward Facebook because more solos practice in consumer-oriented practice areas, and their audience is more likely to participate on Facebook than on more “corporate” platforms like LinkedIn. By contrast, lawyers seeking to make connections with businesses, corporations, and decision-makers may fare better on LinkedIn, with its emphasis on professionals.

Not surprisingly, adoption of other social media platforms lags behind the big two—9.2% of lawyers use Google Plus personally for professional purposes and only 2% of lawyers actively participate on Avvo. However, it is noteworthy that last year, only .5% of respondents used Google Plus personally for professional purposes. Of those who do participate personally on social media platforms for professional purposes, 65% spend less than one hour per week, and another 20% spend 1-5 hours per week on these platforms.

For those who participate personally on social media for professional purposes, career development was the top reason given in the 2015 Survey (as it has since 2011), at 71%, as compared to 75% in 2014. 48% of respondents participate for client development, particularly lawyers in firms between 10 and 99 lawyers—77% of respondents in each of these categories use social media for this purpose, while only 65.4% of solos use social media for career development and networking. 45% of respondents participate for educational purposes or to keep current, and slightly less than one quarter use these platforms for case investigation.

Do lawyers get clients from using social media? Nearly 25% of respondents said “Yes,” although another 23% “Did not know,” and 53% said “No,” they did not retain clients directly or through referral as a result of their use of social media for professional purposes. Lawyers in smaller firms were most likely to report receiving clients as a result of social media use (31% of lawyers in firms of less than 10 lawyers), followed by medium firms (22% of firms between 10 and 100 lawyers). Lawyers in firms of more than 100 lawyers were the least likely to report receiving clients as a result of their social media participation—slightly less than 10%.


Twitter


Twitter is the least used “Web 2.0” tool by lawyers, according to the survey, with almost 67% of respondents advising that their firms do not maintain a Twitter presence. Only 20% do, and another 13% don’t know whether their firm participates or not. This has also remained relatively steady for the last few years, but represents an increase overall since 2011, when only 7% reported that their firms maintained a presence on Twitter. Interestingly, respondents who were solo practitioners were the least likely to use Twitter—89% said their firms do not maintain a Twitter presence (although 24% of solo respondents said they maintain a personal Twitter presence).

Only slightly more individual lawyers than firms maintain a Twitter presence: 23% of respondents, although this is up from 10% in 2014 and 14% in 2013. Those who do use Twitter are still not spending a significant amount of time on the platform: 83% spend less than one hour per week on their Twitter presence.

Education/current awareness is the most popular reason respondents use Twitter (60.5%), a number that remains steady from last year's survey. But last year, career development/networking was the most popular reason, at 71%, as compared to just 53% this year, and only 40% of the solos who use Twitter use it for that purpose. For case investigation, only 14% turn to Twitter.

Twitter use hasn't resulted in clients either directly or through referral for 85% of respondents; less than 3% actually attribute clients to their Twitter use. But there has been a drop in the use of Twitter for client development purposes over the past several years, from 63% in 2013 to 53% in 2014, and now only 33.8% in 2015. It is hard to know whether lawyers have shifted their use of Twitter to be more of an information source and less of an interactive tool as a result of their experience with Twitter and lack of success in the client development arena, or whether the lack of client retention was the case of the shift in their purpose for using Twitter.


How Lawyers are Using These Tools


Despite the use of blogging, social media, and Twitter by both lawyers and their firms, many firms still have not adopted firm-wide policies on the use of these tools. Less than half of the respondents—45%—said their firms have policies on use of online communities and social networks, and even fewer have policies covering blogging (32%) or Twitter use (25%). Perhaps even more disturbing, over 50% of respondents overall did not know whether their firms had these policies in place—and this number was even higher for lawyers in small firms. Of those in small firms (2 and 9 lawyers), 61% were unaware of the existence of any such policies. These numbers have also remained relatively consistent over the past several years. Firms need to institute these policies and do a better job of educating their attorneys about the need for and existence of these policies.

Leaving aside the business uses for social media, lawyers are participating on social media platforms for personal reasons as well. Here, Facebook is the leader; 84.5% of respondents have a Facebook presence for non-professional use, consistent with the results in previous years. The respondents least likely to use Facebook for personal reasons were those in the 100-499 lawyer firms; 76% of those respondents don’t use the platform. And while LinkedIn is known as the “professional network,” 29% of respondents overall use LinkedIn for non-professional purposes, with a whopping 88% of respondents from firms of more than 500 lawyers or between 2 and 9 lawyers using it for personal reasons. Twitter (27.7%), Google Plus (14.4%), and blogs (5%) are also used by lawyers for nonprofessional reasons, but to a lesser extent.

 Even though more lawyers are using these platforms, the use remains largely passive. Only 14% of respondents consume information and participate regularly. Another 42% consume regularly and participate seldom, and 44% of respondents consume information only on these platforms and do not participate at all. Of those who do use social media, only slightly more than 1/3 of respondents pay attention to what their firms are doing; 66% of respondents said they do not follow their firms’ profiles. Even fewer subscribe to or follow the profiles or presences of legal solution providers such as Westlaw (27.5%), Lexis (26.1%), Fastcase (14.6%), or Bloomberg Law, Wolters Kluwer, Justia, JD Supra, and Lois Law (less than 10% each).

Only one quarter of respondents use social media to research legal products solutions, while 70% do not. Although, even if they are not actively researching these solutions on social media, 42% of respondents say they are still influenced by the opinions expressed by their peers on social media about these products and solutions.

Despite the explosion of mobile use and mobile devices, use of “Web 2.0” tools has certainly not gone completely mobile: 90% of respondents continue to access social media on a laptop or desktop computer, while 74% access these tools with a smartphone and 52% from a tablet. These numbers have also remained steady from 2013 and 2014.


What Can We Learn From the 2015 Statistics?


Twitter can be a highly useful tool for lawyers to build relationships, increase awareness, share information, and get news, but it may not be quite as intuitive as some other social media platforms or online communities, which may explain why its use lags behind the other platforms. Indeed the 2015 Survey treats Twitter as an entirely separate entity from the other social media platforms.

Lawyers who use Twitter most successfully do so by interacting regularly with others and sharing information relevant to their audience, whether that information is generated by them or is only "curated" by the attorney and disseminated using Twitter. Alternatively, as the survey reflects, Twitter can be seen simply as an excellent information-gathering tool for other purposes. Those who see online platforms as places to simply promote are not as attracted to Twitter or don’t garner either followers or relationships as a result of its use. Twitter is not an ideal place to seek out clients or to attempt to communicate with potential clients online. It can also be overwhelming and requires good filtering tools and habits to block out what can often be seen as irrelevant noise.

Blogging is an activity which requires consistent effort, and is most successful when the blogger provides commentary or an individual perspective, combined with useful and easily consumable information. Good blogs require an investment of time, a commodity in short supply with many lawyers, which may explain why their use has leveled off in recent years.

Ultimately, the best results with any of these tools comes from a combination of visibility and interaction with others, whether through sharing content created by others, liking or commenting on others’ activities, or creating original content. Social media tools like Facebook and LinkedIn make it easy to interact and don’t require the same investment of time that consistent blogging requires. Twitter remains a mystery to many lawyers who simply cannot wrap their minds around the concept of Twitter or how it could be useful to them. It is a platform which remains difficult to explain – most people won’t "get" Twitter until they begin using it, and many don’t see the value in putting in the effort to do so.

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