January 01, 2017

Social Media Tools Can Help With Marketing, Research, Networking

As mainstream media increases its coverage of social media posts and trends, the number of attorneys experimenting with and even embracing social media in their practices has increased dramatically. According to the 2016 Legal Technology Survey Report recently published by the ABA’s Legal Technology Resource Center, 76 percent of attorneys surveyed maintain an online presence compared with 55 percent in 2012.

Even attorneys who are part of the online community feel overwhelmed by the whole concept and may not know how to leverage their presence. This is particularly true with the “digital immigrant” which includes me and others born before the onset of digital technology - presumably most readers of this newsletter. Like everything that’s new and worthwhile, there is definitely a learning curve. But, with consistency and persistence, any lawyer can become reasonably proficient in using social media tools for the benefit of their practice.

Mindset

You are not alone if you are somewhat skeptical about the value that social media participation will add to your life. Viewing videos of cute cats and exposing yourself to more false news may not attract you. Perhaps you believe that you could not possibly compete with younger attorneys who seem so at home in the social media world.

Yet social media becomes less mysterious if you think of it as just one more tool that will allow you to convey and receive information. The amount of meaningful conversations and material being shared on social media at this very moment is mind blowing. Why would anyone want to miss out? By the way, although the millennials may easily use various social media platforms for personal purposes, most have not learned to strategize for business purposes. Consequently, senior lawyers are not so far behind the curve. The Action Steps listed below are designed to help even the uninitiated become part of the virtual world.

ACTION STEP: If you haven’t already established a LinkedIn account, set one up today. Although I personally use LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, a good place to start is with LinkedIn. Make connections with people you know in “real” life and join groups that resonate with your interests. For example, a family law practitioner may be interested in business development tips received from any of the 2,939 members of the LinkedIn group Marketing for Divorce Professionals.

Factual Research

Social media sites harbor a goldmine of background and other factual information just waiting to be discovered by astute researchers. Certainly, your adversaries, colleagues and competitors are conducting online research. If you haven’t bothered to get up to speed, you may be in violation of MRPC 1.1 (competence) if the amended version of the rule has been adopted in your state. Mastering online legal research tools adds convenience and thoroughness to a practitioner’s life; however, that topic is beyond the scope of this article.

ACTION STEP: Audit your online presence to evaluate how you are perceived by the marketplace. Focus on your current status will give you a starting point for building or enhancing your online brand. Many resources are available that will allow you to investigate your cyber image.

  1. Set Google Alerts to send you notices when you or your firm’s name is mentioned online. Google yourself as well.
  2. Set up a recipe (rule) on IFTTT (If This Then That). Sample Recipe: If twitter mentions @sharperlawyer, then send me a daily email at cindy@thesharperlawyer.com. The possible recipes for monitoring your online presence (or other topics) are limited only by your imagination.

ACTION STEP: Google prospective clients’ names and as a condition of representation, require access to social media accounts. Better for you to uncover undesirable information before your adversary is given the opportunity.

The unfortunate attorney representing the plaintiff in Cajamarca v. Regal Entertainment Group learned this lesson the hard way. His client claimed that she was “bedridden” and in a “vegetative state” as the result of the incident giving rise to the lawsuit; however, her Facebook page revealed “an extraordinarily active travel and social life” and contained “sexual banter with friends.” In admonishing plaintiff’s lawyer, District Judge Cogan stated ”[he} should be roundly embarrassed. At the very least, he did an extraordinarily poor job of client intake in not learning highly material information about his client …” OUCH! Don’t let that happen to you.

ACTION STEP: Warn your clients not to discuss their case online as the information will not be privileged and is probably discoverable. A clause in the retainer agreement should address this issue. On the other hand, counsel clients not to permanently delete previously posted social media data (even if it hurts the case). Many attorneys throughout the country have been sanctioned for spoliation of social media evidence.

Marketing

Evidence of the importance of a strong online presence is found in a 2014 study conducted by FindLaw. FindLaw sought to track how people locate a lawyer when the need arises. According to survey results, 38 percent looked online, a sharp increase from 7 percent in a similar 2005 study. Notably, the percentage of people who ask for a referral from friends or relatives dropped from 65 percent in 2005 to 29 percent in 2014. The same survey revealed that consumers increasingly use the internet to check out attorneys before hiring them. Furthermore, a 2016 follow-up survey showed that 59 percent have relied on online reviews when choosing a professional service provider.

Content Marketing

One of the strongest methods of communicating the value of your legal services is by writing and speaking about your area of expertise. Strategically publishing your content on one of the innumerable online platforms (including your own website or blog) and then sharing the information with social media connections showcases your expertise to a huge audience.

ACTION STEP: Check out automated systems to assist in distributing content across several social media platforms at once. I use HootSuite (hootsuite.com), but TweetDeck (tweetdeck.com) and others are also effective.

ACTION STEP: Find a blog focused on issues faced by your clientele. Ask the owner of the blog if they will accept a short piece written by you on a hot current legal topic. For example, an estate planning attorney could be the guest blogger for an accountant.

Networking Online

Most of you have built relationships throughout the years that have led to client referrals. Social media has established a powerful networking opportunity to supplement and even enhance traditional avenues. It provides the platform and sets the stage for access to thousands of additional contacts. Obviously, connecting in a scattershot manner is not productive. Lawyers will get the biggest bang for their buck by making strategic connections and seeking to deepen relationships, perhaps even arranging to meet a local online contact for coffee.

ACTION STEP: Join the LinkedIn alumni groups of your college and law school. Connect with other members of the group who you knew “back when” and those with whom there is a potential business interest. Commenting on the posts of your connections will enhance your relationship.

Ethical Issues

The most compelling reason cited by many lawyers for shying away from the social media revolution is a concern about ethical implications. Indeed, the door has been opened to new, unexplored and perhaps unexpected issues. After all, any online post that an attorney makes may be a form of communication and/or advertising governed by the ethics rules in most jurisdictions. However, becoming conversant with the rules and using common sense should help obviate that concern.

Assigning the social media initiative to another lawyer, staff member or outside vendor can lead to ethical problems. Keep in mind that compliance with these standards is your responsibility and the ignorance of the person to whom you assigned the task will rarely be a viable defense. Case law and ethics opinions throughout the nation make it abundantly clear that ethical obligations cannot be delegated since attorneys have an ethical duty to supervise subordinate lawyers and non-lawyer staff to ensure that their conduct complies with applicable rules of professional conduct.

ACTION STEP: Create and implement a well crafted social media policy to clarify the expectations of the law firm.

Google: “template law firm social media policy,” and you will be presented with a variety of valuable templates that will allow your law firm to craft an initial policy based upon the current philosophies of your entity. The policy will evolve as you determine what works in your unique business environment.

Moving Forward

Attorneys who fail to take advantage of the infinite online opportunities will be increasingly out of touch - especially in light of the influx of younger lawyers both comfortable and conversant with the internet frontier. Which of the above resources will you begin using now? Please let me know of other online tools that are in your legal “bag of tricks.”