Social Media Primer for Lawyers (Part 1)

Debra L. Bruce, JD, PCC.

Unless you live in a cave, you have probably been hearing about social media lately. Many lawyers dismiss social media as just something that kids do. Others recognize that many adults use social media, but claim that it’s a waste of time for lawyers. Some lawyers even concede that using some social media might benefit their practice, but assert that there are too many risks associated with it.

Lawyers made similar claims about the internet and email in the 1990’s. Today many attorneys can’t even practice, if their access to internet and email goes down. To help reduce the concern and confusion of newcomers to social media, this article provides an overview of the types of social media lawyers are most likely to use.

Just as the internet and email changed the way we do business, today social media are transforming our world. The cover of the April 2009 issue of Fast Company Magazine ran the title “The Kid Who Made Obama President: How Facebook Co-founder Chris Hughes Unleashed Barack’s Base – and Changed Politics and Marketing Forever.” The cover story for the June 5, 2009 issue of Time Magazine was titled “How Twitter Will Change the Way We Live.” In January 2010, Republican Senator Scott Brown effectively used social media to increase his name recognition and fund-raising, leading to his upset victory in the Massachusetts election.

In June 2009 hundreds of thousands of people flooded the streets in Iran protesting the official pronouncement of election results. The government confined foreign journalists to their hotels and arrested those who attempted to report on the violent repression of the protests. Dissidents were able to get news out to the world, however, by posting up-to-the-minute reports, photos and even videos on Twitter through their cell phones.

This is the first in a series of articles intended to help newcomers get a picture of the social media landscape as they take their first steps. The series will briefly overview several different types of social media and how lawyers use them to build, enhance and maintain connections with existing clients, former clients and prospective clients. This is just an introduction to a vast topic.

1. Blogs

Lawyers may use many different social media strategies to demonstrate their expertise and to increase their visibility to the public. Blogs rest at the core of most social media strategies, because activities in other media can include links pointing back to a blog. Search engines, such as Google and Yahoo, favor blogs because their content gets updated frequently, and that content more reliably relates to the search terms used to find it. That in turn makes the search engine more useful and popular. So blogs get extra weight in search engine algorhythms.

Many lawyers fear that if they develop a blog, they’ll have to spend hours posting to it daily. In reality, even monthly posts on a topic that your clients care about, and which use the terms they search on, will improve your website’s search engine ranking (If your firm doesn’t have a website, you need to read my article “No Lawyer Left Behind.”)

Some lawyers fear that blog posts require public stances on issues that may come back to haunt them. Opposing counsel may use it against you if you later argue differently on behalf of a client. A potential client may judge your pronouncements to be contrary to their interests, and decide not to hire you after reviewing your blog.

Those are definitely risks associated with opinionated blogs. Opinionated blogs that spark controversy often attract more readers, but that’s not the only way to blog. You can reduce the risk of needing to eat your words by filing posts that attempt to inform, rather than persuade. Write like an old-fashioned journalist. They communicated the facts and reasons why those facts might hold interest for the reader, but strove to remain unbiased in their reporting. Focus on making your blog a valuable resource that updates your readers on recent developments in the law and answers common legal questions.

Some of the most popular blogging platforms are free, such as WordPress, Typepad, and Blogger. There are also a number of companies that specialize in helping lawyers create blogs, such as LexBlog and Blawging Lawyers. If you aren’t ready to take the plunge, however, consider just writing some guest posts on the blog of someone you know, in order to get your toes wet.

2. Facebook

Facebook allows members to post thoughts, status updates, pictures and videos in their own profiles, and make public comments (on the “wall”) in the profiles of their “friends” or send them private messages. “Friends” are people that they have agreed to connect with on Facebook.

Facebook started with college students, and therefore has a casual and personal tone. It is “growing up,” however, with over 400 million members as of February 2010. According to statistics reported by iStrategyLabs, users over age 55 make up Facebook’s fastest growing U.S. demographic. They grew 922% in 2009.

Facebook includes many other applications, many of which were created by external developers. Some are rather silly games and surveys, which lawyers may want to avoid in order to manage their public image. Others features, such as the ability to post events, blogs and classified ads, have useful purposes for attorneys. Facebook provides many opportunities to show your casual side, which helps to humanize the perception of lawyers. That can help to increase your “know, like and trust” factor for client development.

Businesses can also join Facebook, and the business profiles are called “pages.” Two examples of large Texas law firms that have Facebook pages include the Munsch Hardt Kopf & Harr, P.C. and Akin Gump Pro Bono pages. Many smaller law firms and individual lawyers have personal Facebook pages and profiles.

Why would a lawyer choose to have a Facebook profile? With 400 million members worldwide, it makes sense to “go fishing where the fish swim.” Another great advantage to using Facebook: your kids can teach you how to use it. 😉

Next time: LinkedIn and Twitter.

© 2009-2010 Debra L. Bruce

This post is adapted from an article by the author originally appearing in The Practice Manager published by the State Bar of Texas in 2009.


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