There is an open debate among attorneys over the value of using social media (blogs, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter predominantly) and even websites to generate business for themselves.
The use of social media in business appears to be universally accepted. Franchise lawyers must be knowledgeable about social media in order to advise franchisor clients on appropriate policies to apply to their franchisees. However, use of social media
I recently searched "Lawyers" on Facebook pages and came up with more than 500 responses: some large firms, many smaller firms or sole practitioners, and a few associations of lawyers and lawyer consultants. However, most of the law firm pages were passively interactive websites, featuring occasional postings by the firm and responses to comments concerning those postings.
Some attorneys feel that a website and a social media presence are just a high-tech brochure. Many attorneys we speak to still believe that building relationships the old-fashioned way is the only reliable means to generate real business. There is a perception that person-to-person contact and word-of-mouth referrals simply cannot be duplicated virtually. It is still too early to determine how much of this assessment is grounded in reality and how much is caused by a knee-jerk reaction to such a dramatic change in how lawyers interact with the public.
However, while there are attorneys who view social media as the future of client relationship-building, the relative value of social media as a means of establishing relationships is the subject of much debate. Kevin O'Keefe's widely read LexBlog (http://kevin.lexblog.com/articles/law-firm-marketing/) suggests several metrics to examine for ROI:
O'Keefe mentions that the key is for the firm to define items 4 and 5. What is the goal for the firm, and who are they comparing themselves with?
Once the goals have been established, law firms should develop and implement policies for social media to protect the firm's reputation and bottom line. The policy should be in line with the firm's culture. One major issue is resolving who can initiate social media on behalf of the firm. There must be a tech-savvy person primarily responsible for vetting all online information exchanges and distributions.
A key analysis involves deciding which social media platforms to use. Many law firms use blogs. If the attorney is in a jurisdiction that considers a blog to be advertising, then advertising restrictions must be identified and observed. Generally speaking, if the blogger avoids discussing specific cases (other than published decisions) and limits commentary to educational or entertainment topics, the blog represents the safest form of social media.
LinkedIn has possible advantages as a networking tool. As long as the rules regarding advertising and testimonials are observed, this can be a useful tool for the practitioner.
Facebook, to this writer, remains a dicey proposition. An attorney or firm can simply present the same material on the page that appears on its website and respond in a very restrained manner to inquiries or messages, with careful screening before anything is posted. That would permit a legal presence on Facebook. Paradoxically, that would remove the primary benefit of Facebook, which is its spontaneity and fluid and instant interaction. However, fluid and instant interaction outside of the office is dangerous ground for an attorney. The potential for inadvertently creating attorney-client relationships, being construed as offering advice, and inadvertently revealing confidential information all seem to outweigh the benefits that a constrained Facebook page would offer.
Law firm policies also should include a discussion on the usage of social media during litigation (by both attorneys and clients) and the categories of individuals who should not be connected to as friends on Facebook.
All firm personnel should distance themselves from the firm in the manner in which they present themselves in social networking. For instance, the firm should not be specifically identified on personal Facebook pages www.natlawreview.com/article/importance-law-firm-social-media-policies). If employees identify their employer on social media, what they do online may have an effect on the image of the employer. It can also be unclear if statements made on a personal Facebook page or Twitter can be attributed to an identified law firm employer. So a clear line must be drawn.
Terrence M. Dunn is a founding partner at the New York-based law firm Einbinder & Dunn. He can be reached at 212-391-9500.