January 2012 | The Changing Practice of Law
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Have a Social 2012

By Lindsay Griffiths

As the new year dawns, legal marketers and attorneys look back at the lessons learned in 2011, as well as look forward to what we can expect during 2012.  And, of course, a popular topic to investigate is that of current trends affecting our industry.

If you're an avid reader of my professional blog, Zen & The Art of Legal Networking, you know that one of my favorite things to talk about is social media.  I've touted the benefits of social media for so long that many of my attorneys roll their eyes when I mention it.  But it's clear that it's not going away, and I think 2012 will see even better adoption of these tools among attorneys. 

In a recent survey released by Vizibility Inc. and Lexis Nexis, they found that 81% of large law firms are using social media for marketing.  Now, I'm clearly going to be behind that idea, but I believe 2012 is going to see greater usage of these tools by attorneys for business development and networking – they're going to move beyond being tools that the marketing department handles, to being tools that the majority of attorneys at the firm are using directly.

Most marketing departments at law firms are already behind the idea of using social media, if for no other reason than everyone else is doing it, and at the bare minimum, it's essential to be listening to the conversation out there and to stake your claim on your social media "real estate." But I'm still hearing from many attorneys that they're not sure what the benefits are to them.

My take on that is this – social media is not some scary esoteric thing that is difficult to get a grasp on. It's simply using new tools and technology to do what you've always done – build relationships.

So why add this into the mix for business development activities? Two reasons – one, social media offers you a broader, and yet more targeted, reach and levels the playing field among firms of various sizes. Two, whether or not you think you'll be connecting directly with clients, there will come a point in time when a potential client Googles you (let's be honest, we all do it when we're thinking of hiring someone) and you want them to get the sense that you're a cutting-edge expert in your field.

That's what seeing your Google search results will accomplish, when they come up with pages of blog posts you've authored on relevant cases and trends, your Twitter feed that shows you as a go-to source on articles and posts about the things they care about, your LinkedIn profile that describes your awards and accolades within your area of expertise and your Facebook page, that aggregates in one place the information that they need.   All of those things position you as the expert that they need in their corner.

Even better? Journalists, publications, and conference organizers are using social media tools constantly to find the right sources for their articles and as speakers for their events.  Connecting with them through social media can make sure that the right people know who you are and can help you to connect with these "influencers" who will subsequently help in getting you in front of the potential clients that you're looking for.

But off my soapbox for the moment – those are the reasons that I think social media is an important business development tool, but why do I think greater adoption among attorneys will be a mega-trend of 2012?

Over the past several years, social media tools have gone from being the "cool new toy on the block" to being a part of our every day lives.  Your clients and their companies are using them. Your friends are using them to stay in touch. You're using them to check up on your kids, reconnect with high school and college friends, and stay up-to-date on what's happening in the world in 140-characters. As we all get more comfortable with them, it's only natural that their use bleeds into our professional lives as well. 

Social media is no longer "cutting-edge." It's a necessity and during 2011, it became clear that law firms could no longer ignore these tools.  We saw them reach higher and higher rates of adoption, and in 2012, we will see them move from being "that thing that Bob Thomas down the hall does" to the tools that we're all using to keep in touch, share industry news and information, and connect with clients, potential clients, and influencers on a more regular basis.

What will this mean for law firms and lawyers? For firms, there will need to be a greater emphasis on social media policies and training. No longer can we ask the question "Is a social media policy really necessary?" It is, and not simply as a file sitting on a shelf somewhere – attorneys and staff at firms will need to be trained on what the policy means for them practically, what the firm's expectations are for their professional, and yes, even personal, social media usage, and some case studies of what can happen, along with best practices.

Social media training will also be essential, so that attorneys and staff can learn how to use the tools, not only in general, but also as specific to law firms – what are the ethical concerns? What can and should people post using social media? How do you really use these tools for business development?

For lawyers, clients are going to come to expect that they can reach out to you using social media. In the US, we've seen a blending of our professional and personal lives using social media, and that will continue. Your clients will "friend" you on Facebook and you'll get a greater understanding of each other's lives. They will "follow" you on Twitter and connect to you on LinkedIn. This will mean that they want instant access to you – social media gives the impression of being even faster than an email, so if someone sees you tweet something and they send you a message in return, they're going to expect a fairly immediate response.

So for attorneys, this will mean a greater emphasis on finding the right balance – both the balance between professional and personal, as well as what the right amount of time dedicated to social media should be. There is no right answer for all of us – it's something we need to learn ourselves.

I'm sure for many of us, it feels as though new business development ideas and tools are regularly being thrown into the mix, and at some point it feels like it is impossible to use them all and still manage to get any actual work done! It's the old pickle of too many choices overwhelming us.  So with social media, as with any other business development tool, the important thing to focus on is identifying what works best for you and the goals you have set for yourself. But I believe you'll find that social media is such a versatile set of tools that you'll be surprised by how well it can work for you. Have a very happy (and social!) 2012!

ABA TECHSHOW 2012 Law Practice Today on Facebook

About the Author

Lindsay Griffiths is the International Lawyers Network's Director of Global Relationship Management. In this capacity, she identifies and implements marketing opportunities both internally and externally to develop new approaches to business development needs. Lindsay has actively been focused on leveraging social networking technologies to benefit the ILN and its members over the last four years.

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