Sep 21 '12
Lawyers are consummate networkers. Fact. For centuries, instruction has been won by spending time building relationships. It’s all about people. And yet the majority of lawyers have to get into social media, the total online networking tool.
An oxymoron if I ever heard one.
Where the corporate and small practice lawyer in the UK and US has ‘got’ social media, they, in the main part, have yet to ‘get’ social media – that is, the true essence and purpose of online networking sites. Having a LinkedIn profile does not actually mean that you are doing social media… shock horror!
Ok, so you might have a Twitter and Facebook account and post fairly regular posts. But, be honest… the aesthetics are probably dry, the content is perhaps a little arid and almost certainly incomprehensible and the overall message and feel of the profile props up that old stereotype: that lawyers are stuffy, law firms are even stuffier and that the law is strictly outside the reach of the lay person.
So the current theme for lawyers and social media is a two speed one: either they’re not doing it or they’re doing it wrong… ok, there are a few exceptions but, hand on heart, are you one of them?
This clashes rather sharply with the image of the lawyer as a polished networker.
Certainly the lawyer isn’t seen as a pedigree networker for no reason: throughout the modern era the lawyer has built his practice and reputation through word of mouth, recommendations and referrals. Over infamous 3-hour liquid lunches, under booze filled corporate tents and within clouds of Cuban cigar smoke, deals have been sealed and lost.
So what’s up with this quasi-digital luddism and why hasn’t the lawyer’s innate propensity for personal and professional networking shifted into the social media sphere?
Firstly, lawyers often feel suspicious of social media and hold confidentiality, privacy and conflict of interest concerns.
Secondly, lawyers often associate social media with their children or young people. They feel that Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and the like are unprofessional and simply for leisure purposes; but nothing could be further from the truth!
Thirdly, the lawyer’s social media aversion can be attributed in large part to his or her legal education – law school is grounded in centuries old case law and legislation, tried and tested method and practices.
So, as a matter of course, the lawyer is conditioned to strictly interpret written texts and events; not to innovate and seek process improvement. That, they often feel, is the reserve of the science, maths and technology professional.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Social media is here to stay and the law firm that avoids social media or does it incorrectly has much to lose.
So how can lawyers get into social media and more importantly, get social media?
Firstly, law firms need to understand that the social media sphere is essentially a public space where people of all classes and creeds can talk and interact. So that means you behave as you would in the street or public park: you try to come across as personable, open and of admirable character.
That means no stiff corporate gesturing and dense business talk. You certainly wouldn’t flash important business documents and contracts in the public’s face – so why would you do that on social media?
So those privacy concerns are a non-starter.
Secondly, law schools need to teach modules on law and social media. They need to show the benefits that can come to legal practice from a well executed social media strategy.
Thirdly, practicing professionals need to brush up on their essential IT and computing skills to ensure that they’re not only familiar with all software packages but that they are literate in the ways of social media.
Law firms should also encourage interaction across the range of departments so that fee earners can engage with IT, HR and PR and improve their digital literacy.
And finally, lawyers need to realise that social networking is about conversing, discussing and building relationships… just as spending Friday lunchtime in the pub with a bunch of estate agents is.
Ultimately lawyers need help to demystify the world of social media so that they can come to see the social network for what it is: a giant networking breakfast group that happens to be online that just so happens to include a near unlimited pool of client and business growth potential. They need to realise that social networking IS referral and word of mouth marketing… it’s just a different place to have those conversations.
So go lawyers drop those social media worries and get on out there and seal some deals!
This post was written by Elephant Creative associate Brian Spencer.