December 01, 2014

Putting Social Media to Work for You

Alanna Pawlowski

The views expressed herein have not been approved by the House of Delegates or the Board of Governors of the American Bar Association, and accordingly, should not be construed as representing the policy of the American Bar Association.

As social media use becomes more prevalent across all age groups and segments of society, professionals are incorporating it into their business practices. Attorneys—even those in the public sector—can benefit from using social media. 

At a recent ABA webinar, “Putting Social Media to Work for You,” two panelists explained how social media and blogs can help lawyers: 

  • enhance their client base and professional network; 
  • broaden their knowledge base; and 
  • increase career opportunities. 

Why Use Social Media

Build your professional network

A social media presence can help attorneys reach new potential clients and connect with colleagues who can make referrals. Think of it like word of mouth, said lawyer panelist Kevin O’Keefe, CEO of Seattle-based LexBlog, which helps lawyers worldwide network via blogs and social media. 

Follow these tips to build your network with social media: 

  • Think of social media as you would in-person networking and word-of-mouth.

  • Connect with people online before attending a national conference to help break the ice more quickly. 

  • Get out of your comfort zone. 

  • Reach new clients and save money over ads in yellow pages. 

  • Build relationships with people; let them get to know you. People like to work with people they like. 

Learn from others in the field

By engaging with other professionals in your field on social media, whether by “friending” them on Facebook or “following” them on Twitter, you’re gaining access to the information they share. This is valuable even for public defenders, because “you’re learning from people in spades, from coast to coast,” O’Keefe said. Lawyers can use social media to stay up-to-speed on developments in their field, which ultimately leads to better representation for clients. 

When it comes to blogging, writing blog posts forces you to stay current on issues in your area, said panelist Nicole Black, attorney and co-author of Social Media for Lawyers: the Next Frontier, published by the ABA. Blogs can be a great tool to stay abreast of issues and cultivate relationships. 

Transition to a new job or practice area 

Social media and blogging can be useful when looking for a new job or moving into a new practice area. 

If you’re considering switching fields, Black suggested writing blog posts about cases in the practice area and about others’ blogs who are already in that field. You can share your posts on social media and inform authors that you’ve written about their blog. 

LinkedIn is also a key social media platform to use when seeking a new job. You can post resume information and use LinkedIn connections to find job opportunities. 

Where to Start 

Decide which social media platform to use 

Don’t rush into creating a social media account if you aren’t familiar with it. Take time to evaluate what you want to accomplish with social media and pick up a working understanding of the tools before deciding which networks to use. 

O’Keefe suggested trying out one social media network, such as Facebook or Twitter, and giving yourself a goal of 90 days to start seeing how it might work for you. He suggested setting a longer timeframe to gain a complete understanding of what networking on the Internet is and how it fits into your professional life. 

Regardless of your social media goals or preferences, the panelists agreed that lawyers should at minimum have a profile on LinkedIn. While LinkedIn is considered social media, it’s not necessarily social, explained Black. It is valuable to create a LinkedIn profile about yourself and your work even if you don’t go to the next level and actively share and connect with others. 

Determine if you want a separate personal profile 

The webinar addressed whether or not professionals should have a personal profile that is separate from their professional profile. Both panelists said they have just one profile page for each social media platform, but are mindful about what personal information they post. Black, for example, does not refer to family members by name in her posts. She will, however, post about what she cooked for dinner, where she’s traveling, and other thoughts. 

The benefit of having a combined page is that people can get to know you more personally, similar to how they might at an actual networking event. 

How to Use it 

Once you have a social media profile set up, take these steps to get the most from it. 

Choose your connections

The panelists stressed taking time to curate your connections and find people who can give you good information. O’Keefe suggested being proactive and looking for national experts in your field, local practitioners, and people who post frequently.

The panelists warned, however, about being too selective in accepting others’ requests to connect, especially on LinkedIn. “This isn’t a Rolodex, it’s learning who you like, who has relevant interests,” O’Keefe said. Both O’Keefe and Brown will look at a potential connection’s background and generally accept the connection request. 

If you notice someone you are connected with is posting inappropriate content, you can choose to have their posts stop appearing in your news feed. On Facebook or LinkedIn, this will allow you to remain connected but not have their posts appear in your news feed. Other times, it may be best to completely disconnect from them. 

Decide what to share 

Don’t get too caught up in your own posts

Learn to listen to others and share their content as well. O’Keefe has created what he calls “social media equity” on his Twitter page. Others share his posts and follow him because they know he shares others’ content too.

As mentioned earlier, sharing both personal and professional information can help strengthen your connections. When it comes to sharing political or religious beliefs, consider possible outcomes. Black suggested thinking about why you’re on social media and who will potentially be offended. If you really want to share personal beliefs, accept that some clients may not hire you or may form opinions about you based on them.

Think through ethical issues 

Be sure to review your state’s ethics rules on social media, if any. Black suggested doing a quick search for any ethics guidelines and being aware of them as you post and interact on social media. 

Manage your feeds 

On social media, posts from the people you’re connected with on a social media site are funneled into your “feed.” 

Twitter has a built-in feature called “lists” to help you manage your feed. Using Twitter lists, you can group people based on categories you set, such as relevant topics. This cuts through the massive amount of Twitter posts, which otherwise can seem “like trying to listen to all the radio stations in Chicago at once,” O’Keefe said. He gave an example of a favorite list he created with all of the reporters in the U.S. who cover courts. Creating the list took about two hours, time he said was well worth it. 

Other social media tools can help you effectively manage your feed and posts. See the sidebar to learn more. 

How Much Time to Spend 

Because of the wealth of information on social media, decide how much time per day you’re going to spend to avoid getting “lost in the sea of social media.”

Black suggested spending 20-30 minutes each morning getting caught up, learning, and simultaneously repurposing and sharing content. 

O’Keefe advised spending about five hours per week on social media. He makes an effort to share about 25 posts each day, both his and others’, on Twitter. 

In the end, social media is about connecting with others in a way that is meaningful to you. “These tools are not anything new,” said O’Keefe, emphasizing that lawyers have always gotten clients and built relationships from word of mouth and networking. And while the learning process may be slow for those not yet well-versed in social media, O’Keefe said the results come quickly after that.

Managing Social Media 

With a firm understanding of social media, try these advanced tools to make you more efficient. 

  • Bring multiple social media feeds and news sites together as one. Create lists and filters so you see only the best, most relevant content. Flipboarda mobile app that collects content from social media, blogs, and publications and presents it by topic in an image-heavy, magazine-like format. 
  • Prismatic (for Facebook and Twitter, only on Apple products)—this website and mobile app learns your interests and suggests relevant stories for you to read. It can also show stories others in your network are sharing. 

  • RSS feedspresents the latest content and articles from a single news website or blog. 

  • Feedlya website and mobile app that gathers stories from multiple RSS feeds and organizes them for you by topic and interests. 

Manage how you share information across multiple social media platforms. Get analytics to gauge your effectiveness. 

  • Bufferallows you to share articles, images, and videos directly from web pages to various social media accounts. Connect it with your post-gathering tools, such as Feedly, to share directly from those feeds. Schedule posts for the future and get recommended posting times for optimal engagement. 

  • Sprout Socialmanages posts for multiple accounts with an emphasis on advanced engagement analytics and reports; no free account options. 

  • HootSuite (best for Twitter, but works with other networks)—send, schedule, and receive posts for multiple social media accounts and organize them into lists; get basic analytics. 


Alanna Pawlowski is a program assistant at the ABA Center on Children and the Law.