Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin: November 2013

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Social Media is no different from other methods – it is telling people (friends, clients, colleagues, potential clients) what you do and how you can help them, but doing it online.

In the October issue, I talked about “traditional” networking techniques that even introverts can use to build their practice. I hope many of you attend the 14th Solo Conference on November 15 and put some of those ideas to work. 

While I believe in face-to-face connecting and networking, the newer technologies for social networking should not be ignored and should be part of an overall plan to connect to new clients and referral sources.  This month’s column is going to give some tips for using social media as part of your practice.  I will include information from many of the publications and sites that I use and read. 

These Are Just Tools

I completely understand that law is a personal relationship profession. These new technologies do not change that. These are just new tools that need to be added to your marketing toolbox. They do not supplant the “tried and true” methods, such as networking and personal and professional referrals.  According to Matt Homann, president of LexThink (www.lexthinkllc.com),  “Most important social media are the handshake and the telephone.” Like other marketing activities, these new technologies will not produce overnight results. They should not be viewed as separate and apart from all the other client development methods you use to get new clients. Social media is no different from other methods – it is telling people (friends, clients, colleagues, potential clients) what you do and how you can help them, but doing it online.

Statistics

The 2013 American Bar Association Legal Technology Survey Report indicates that while more lawyers and firms are using social media, the growth has been modest.  (Although I am not discussing blogs in this article, it is interesting to note that of the lawyers who indicate they have blogs for professional purposes, most are solo practitioners – 12 percent solos against 9 percent individual lawyers within firms.)

This year, 59 percent of lawyers said that their firms maintain a presence in a social network, and the most common networks are LinkedIn and Facebook. Of these firms, 92 percent have a presence on LinkedIn, up from 88 percent the year before. On Facebook, 58 percent say they have a presence, up from 55 percent in 2012.

A perennial question for lawyers is whether participation in social media generates new business. The survey asked lawyers whether a client had ever retained them as a result of social media:

  • Of lawyers who blog, 39.1 percent said yes.
  • Of lawyers who participate in social networks, 19 percent said yes. Among solos, 24 percent said yes.
  • Of lawyers who use Twitter, six percent said yes (down from 11 percent in 2012).
    (From  Robert Ambrogi’s August 5, 2013 Law Sites Blog.)

General Tips

This article is going to assume that you are: one, seriously considering using some type of social media; two, currently using one of the big three, or; three, trying to determine how to use social media more effectively. 

LinkedIn. This is generally viewed as more business/professional level for social media, and I recommend that all lawyers create a LinkedIn account with a descriptive and well-written public profile. You should also join LinkedIn lists that support your practice area and where potential clients will be. LinkedIn users can see each other’s profiles and connections (called “contacts”) when they connect to each other. “LinkedIn is a goldmine for potential firm hires, many of whom use the site to forge connections with practicing lawyers working in their desired area. The site offers a number of advanced features, including status updates, newsfeeds, and interactive discussion forums, which provide a platform for firm outreach and marketing efforts.”  (ABA Law Practice, January/February, 2012,  “Social Media Networking For Lawyers: A Practical Guide to Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Blogging, Simon Chester and Daniel Del Gobbo.)

In many of the various groups there are opportunities for discussions and replying to questions. It is an opportunity to give information to show your knowledge but you must be careful not to cross the line between answering a question and giving legal advice. 

There was an excellent post on the Legal Productivity Blog (www.legalproductivity.com/legal-marketing/linkedin-tips)  that listed the top ten tips to utilize LinkedIn more effectively. I recommend reading the entire post, but the best tips were:

  • Use a LinkedIn Email Signature
  • Website integration
  • Be creative with your headlines
  • Have a clear, professional photo
  • Add groups to your profile
  • Join groups
  • Don’t waste your “Summary” Talk about why you do what you do. Tell a story.

Facebook. While Facebook is not usually thought of as a business/professional social media site, it would be foolish to completely dismiss it or to not understand how it works. If you are not currently on Facebook, but are considering it, you should first decide whether you want it to be for more personal posts or more firm related. If it is going to be for personal use, then my opinion is that it should be almost exclusively personal. If, on the other hand, it is going to be business or firm related, you could have some limited personal posts to create a more personal feel to the information. 

In “Thirteen Facebook Tips for Lawyers in 2013” (published in the ABA’s March issue of Law Practice Today;http://tinyurl.com/b62mvyz),  Dennis Kennedy, who wrote the ABA book, Facebook in One Hour for Lawyers,said “My main observation about Facebook as a marketing tool is that you will probably get better business results from Facebook by concentrating on potential referrers rather than potential clients. Think of Facebook as a form of indirect marketing.”

I think this is an excellent approach, but it will require some planning and monitoring. Some of the most relevant tips in the article include:

  • Visit your privacy and account settings on a regular basis. They are always changing the rules.
  • Establish some privacy rules of thumb. This is very important to determine before you start to use Facebook if you have not already created an account. If you have already created an account, it is not too late to establish rules.
  • Have a plan for adding Friends. 
  • Always review the Friends, especially the Friends in common, of anyone who sends you an invitation before accepting that invitation.
  • Take your online relationships offline. This is combining the electronic social marketing with the traditional face to face relationship building.
  • Separate personal and professional. But, keep in mind that as a lawyer you should be cautious about what you post on your personal page, and that is even more important for solo practitioners.
  • Use Updates to send news and relevant links of value to your network.
  • Use self-promotion sparingly, self-deprecatingly and subtly on Facebook.
  • Participate thoughtfully in relevant Groups.

Now What?

Both LinkedIn and Facebook have potential uses for lawyers and law firms, but you need to understand the difference and how to use them effectively without getting into trouble. You do not need to spend lots of time on either of them to use them to your advantage, but you will need to spend some time connecting with your connections and friends just as you do with traditional relationships. This is no different. 

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Publications : Bar Bulletin : November 2013

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