YourABA December 2012 Masthead

When lawyers ‘like’ Facebook: Using the site to attract and maintain clients

Ursula Furi-Perry

Allison C. Shields

Ursula Furi-Perry

Dennis Kennedy

Lawyers tend to overthink Facebook, say Dennis Kennedy and Allison C. Shields, authors of Facebook in One Hour for Lawyers, a new book from the American Bar Association Law Practice Management Section. “Most people jump on Facebook and reconnect and communicate with friends and family members,” the authors say. “Lawyers seem to focus on advantages and disadvantages, return on investment and the like.”

That said, YourABA asked the authors about, yes, the advantages and disadvantages as well as tips to make the most of Facebook professionally. Kennedy is an information technology lawyer, and Shields is president of Legal Ease Consulting, where she coaches lawyers on practice management and business development issues.

What are the advantages and drawbacks for a lawyer using Facebook?

At its core, all social networking, whether online or in the real world, is most effective when it is used to communicate and build relationships. If the people you want to reach or to build relationships with are using a particular platform on a consistent basis, as is increasingly the case with Facebook, it might be wise to explore ways to use that platform to help you meet those people and allow them to get to know you, both as a professional and as a person. In other words, you need to go to where your target audience is. If Facebook helps you accomplish that, it will be a good platform for you to use for that purpose. If not, you can still benefit by using Facebook for personal reasons.

As for advantages, there are many. Lawyers today face many challenges, not the least of which are the economic climate in 2012 and the increased competition in the legal market resulting not only from the sheer number of lawyers, but also the availability of nonlawyer-provided legal services. More than ever, lawyers need to distinguish themselves and create lasting relationships with others to continue to develop business and keep their practices afloat. Facebook provides a free and easy way to engage with others and includes myriad features that can help lawyers do just that.

Most lawyers will focus on two main “disadvantages” of using Facebook, but both can be overcome with proper use and management of Facebook. The first is that it is easy to get distracted by it and to spend more time than originally intended, taking the lawyer away from other tasks that may be more important. The second is that there are potential professional and personal pitfalls, which lawyers must be careful about, which we cover in more depth in the book. These include potential ethical breaches and privacy and security concerns.

If your firm has a Facebook presence, as a lawyer do you want to create a separate professional presence for yourself on Facebook? Why/why not?

Facebook is a social networking platform, and although your law firm Facebook page might have a following of people who have elected to receive the firm’s updates in their own Facebook news feeds, what people on Facebook really want is personal interaction. In addition, there are things individuals can do with a Facebook profile that a law firm cannot do with a professional Facebook page. And most lawyers will say that they joined Facebook or were asked to join Facebook by a friend or family member.

Part of the message of Facebook in One Hour for Lawyers is that using Facebook for personal reasons can be highly valuable and rewarding. That being said, we recommend that lawyers who create an individual Facebook presence take care to always keep their interactions — even personal interactions — of a character that they wouldn’t mind professional colleagues and contacts seeing. Although there are ways to segregate the personal from the professional on Facebook (using friend lists, etc.), everything on Facebook is still on the Internet, and even if you are sharing with a small list, there is no guarantee that your posts won’t be reshared with others.

We think that having an individual profile and timeline on Facebook can be advantageous because it allows for that personal interaction with potential clients and referral sources. People do business with people they know, like and trust. If you use Facebook with that in mind and with a goal of getting to know others, Facebook might well be a good way to develop business. Studies indicate that when people make the final decision about hiring a lawyer, the personal factors become very important. Highlighting a few personal factors like hobbies, interests, family and civic involvement, especially with pictures, might make a big difference at the point of a decision being made.

What are some of the privacy settings a lawyer should be using?

In the simplest terms, all of them! Having a solid understanding of Facebook’s privacy and account settings is extremely important for lawyers — both for their own benefit and to help clients. Facebook has been criticized about privacy matters in the past, and it’s important to remember that Facebook’s assumption is that it’s best to share information.

The good news is that Facebook has collected privacy and account settings in a convenient way. Click on the down arrow just to the right of your name and “Home” on the blue navigation bar at the top of each page. You’ll find a link to the settings in the dropdown menu that appears.

We all but beg you to spend 15 to 20 minutes working systematically through the setting choices. Facebook’s “Help” also gives you good information about settings. Most of the settings will be self-explanatory.

We especially recommend turning on the “secure browsing” setting and limiting your audience to “Friends” whenever that’s a choice. It’s best to limit audience first and then broaden out as you understand what you want to do rather than be surprised at how many people are seeing your information and then trying to dial back the audience.

What information and photos should/shouldn't you include in your profile?

Lawyers should always include a professional-looking headshot in their Profile so that others know whom they are interacting with on Facebook. Although many people like to use Profile photographs with several people in them or with pets, the thumbnail image on Facebook is so small that we advise against this in the profile photo. There are other places on Facebook that you can post these photographs. Your cover photo (the large photograph, similar to a website header, that appears at the top of your timeline) can be more creative and can include several people or anything else you wish that shows your personality. Of course, don’t post embarrassing photographs or photographs you would not want a client, colleague or referral source to see.

The Facebook profile “About” section does not allow entry of too much detailed information, but you can enter basic biographical information, including where you studied and where you work, as well as your birthdate (if you have chosen to share that information), favorite quotes, etc. You can set different permissions for many of these categories so that not all of your Facebook friends can see all of your personal information.

On a law firm Facebook page, the About information is front and center in the new layout, but there’s only room for a small amount of text above your timeline, so make it count. You might want to place your tagline or brief elevator pitch and contact information (phone number and/or links to your website or blog) at the top so it can be seen right on the timeline for your page. The About section probably will be the place you want to add any necessary disclaimers or meet other requirements under applicable ethical rules. Remember that visitors to your page can still click on the About link to get the full text of your About section.

What are some creative ways to use Facebook to promote your firm/services?

Encourage interaction by posting questions or polls, enabling others to comment on your timeline (but be sure to set your page permissions to allow you to approve those posts before they go “public”), and permit messages so you can receive private messages from others. Post photos; they generally are more interesting to Facebook users and usually provoke more interaction than purely text-based posts. Post links to blog posts, news or articles that appear on your website. Whether you post text-based information, photos, videos or links, make sure that you post what your potential clients, referral sources and friends would find interesting or valuable.

Use the apps tabs as calls to action on your page. For example, if you offer free information or downloads on your website, you can direct Facebook visitors there by creating a custom app. Upload an appropriate image and a link that directs visitors to a landing page you designate.

Invite friends to “Like” your page so they can receive your page updates in their news feed. You can only invite friends to like your page if you are already confirmed friends on Facebook, which is another reason to have a personal Facebook profile.

How often should you update your page?

There is no right or wrong, and much of the answer to this question depends on your purpose in using Facebook and your different audiences. But in general, we recommend that individuals post a brief update at least weekly, and check your news feed for interesting stories to share, or comment on updates posted by your friends. Using the Like button is a quick and easy way to stay engaged on Facebook and connect with friends without having to write something new yourself every time.

Law firm Facebook pages should also be updated regularly; posting interesting links to others’ content, links to the firm’s blog posts, photographs of firm activities, videos or news items at least weekly will keep the page fresh. Three updates a week would be a reasonable target. However, [the number of updates] will depend on what you are trying to accomplish on Facebook. You might need to be responsive, answer questions or have something closer to a daily appearance to make the most of your firm’s Facebook presence.

What are some key ethical considerations when using Facebook?

Regulation of social media, including Facebook, is an evolving topic, so you must keep up to date on developments. Because of the increasing usage of Facebook by lawyers and a few highly publicized missteps some lawyers have already made, you are likely to see plenty of news coverage of any future developments that have a big impact on Facebook usage.
All lawyers should make themselves familiar with the opinions and approaches of the applicable jurisdictions for them and their practice. But in general, the biggest ethical issues when using Facebook include:

  • Avoiding the dissemination of misleading information and keeping any online presence updated (ABA Model Rule 7.1);
  • Using appropriate and applicable disclaimers as required in your jurisdiction(s) (ABA Model Rule 7.3);
  • Keeping client confidentiality (ABA Model Rule 1.6);
  • Having a solid understanding of the advertising and solicitation rules, including those about specialties and endorsements (ABA Model Rules 7.2, 7.3 and 7.4; ABA Formal Opinion 10‐457); and
  • Inadvertent attorney-client relationships and unauthorized practice of law (ABA Model Rules 5.5 and 1.18; ABA Formal Opinion 10‐457).

In addition, all firms should implement a social media policy or add coverage of social media to existing firm policies.

You list 60 tips in the back of your book. Do you have a top five that you might select?

  • Take the time to walk through all of your privacy and account settings and consider each choice. Then revisit these settings on a regular basis and any time you learn that Facebook has made a change to its privacy approach.
  • Especially for lawyers, understanding and using friend lists to control what certain groups of friends see and receive is important.
  • Create a separate page for your law firm, but be careful who you designate as administrator(s) for the page. Set appropriate permissions levels and take advantage of Facebook’s new administrator roles to give different levels of permissions to lawyers and staff in your firm to help manage your page.
  • Become familiar with your jurisdiction’s ethics rules affecting Facebook participation and monitor developments.
  • Put links to your Facebook account and Like buttons on your website, blog, social media profiles, email signature or other places you can be found on the Internet to let people get to you and interact with you on Facebook no matter how they find you on the Internet.

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