Why Lawyers Don't (But Should) Use Social Media

This post is sparked by a recent entry on Flip the Media, which discusses why lawyers don’t use social media. As an early adopter of nearly every technological development available (most of which turn out to be worthless), I still wonder why this question pops up so frequently. More specifically, I wonder why there are not more concrete answers to it.

First of all, the notion is generally false. Lawyers do, in fact, use social media. And they use it quite a lot. As recognized in the Flip the Media article:

In one study it is shown that lawyers are actually ahead of other professions in adopting social media. Compared to Fortune 500 companies, for example, law firms as a whole use social media more. For example 62% of AmLaw 200 law firms had blogs in 2010, but only 23% of Fortune 500 companies could claim the same.

Admittedly, in my mind, blogs are a “grey area” when it comes to social media. They are still “we publish, you read” formats without much interaction, but they are still informative and you will find that many lawyers and most AmLaw500 Law Firms also have official Twitter feeds.

Some complain that the Model Rules of Professional Conduct limit what lawyers can use social media for. Others argue that social media is not an effective tool for marketing or client development. According to The Flip Side article:

Many lawyers don’t use social media because they don’t think they can get clients from online activity. Others start using social media thinking that this will attract clients, and give up because it doesn’t.

I think the fundamental problem with lawyers and social media is unrealistic expectations. As the excerpt above indicates, many (if not most) lawyers expect their social media efforts to magically drive client development. I can guarantee you that social media, particularly Twitter, is not a particularly great client procurement tool. But people who are solely after marketing or client development are missing the point. Lawyers have always known about the importance of networking, creating name recognition, and, above all, establishing credibility. In my mind, this is where social media–particularly Twitter–is key.

Let’s be honest. You’re not likely to find a client on Twitter (at least not very often). That said, I have asked for (although have yet to receive–hint, hint) several referrals in other states for clients who needed assistance. My Twitter group serves as an excellent referral network. Moreover, the information that I glean by scanning tweets and reading posted articles is invaluable. It helps me establish credibility in my own community and in the “social media” community as well. My personal opinion is that, as lawyers, we often miss the bigger picture. Twitter and Facebook are great for building networks; blogs and email lists are excellent for establishing credibility and knowledge; LinkedIn, Avvo, and Justia are being used more and more by our potential clients to search our information and counsel.

At a time where thousands of people are passing themselves off as “social media marketing gurus” or “masters of social media marketing,” let’s not forget that the ultimate goal is to create an online presence, easily accessible by potential clients, that immediately creates some interest and trust in your abilities. This is where blogs and sites like Avvo and LinkedIn are key. As legal consumers find and follow your social media publications, they will turn to these other resources to determine your actual abilities. It is one thing to retweet hundreds of legal related articles; it is another to have several positive client/peer reviews on your Avvo and LinkedIn sites.

Remember what your goal is (and remember that both Google and Bing index tweets). Take a moment to think about how you are using social media and whether you are doing it correctly. Twitter and Facebook, to a certain degree, are great at driving traffic and creating a “name” for yourself (in addition to networking). Justia, Avvo, and LinkedIn are great for establishing your credibility. Your blog is the best place to illustrate your expertise (the same can be said for some sites such as Avvo and Martindale Hubbell that have lawyer rankings and scores).

In the end, the question should not be, why aren’t lawyers using social media? The question should be, why aren’t lawyers using social media in the right way? Hopefully this post, along with other great information available on this site and around the web, will get you going in the right direction. Social media is a powerful tool. Lawyers will continue to use it and their use will become more and more effective. We’re all smart people; let’s start using those smarts to develop legitimate and workable social media strategies to coincide with our efforts. There is more to it than throwing a bunch of information out on the Interwebs and waiting for clients to come knocking on your door (or, in this case jamming up your inbox).

These are resources you need to be using. But you need to be using them in the right way. If a lawyer is not using social media, it may be because he or she does not realize the potential benefits, or he or she does not know how to use it effectively. My series of articles on this blog will further elaborate on how I think lawyers should be using social media, and how they can do it effectively. Spending a couple of days at Avvo’s Avvocating Conference could be the first step in getting your social media plan in place.

About the author: Tyson B. Snow is a founding partner at Mumford West & Snow, LLC, in Salt Lake City. His practice focuses on management-side employment litigation and all facets of tech-related and IP litigation. He regularly presents and writes on the interplay of social media and the law, and authors the Social Media, Esq.™ blog. You can follow him on Twitter at: @tysonESQ.