The Buffalo Law Journal asked me to write a guest column in their recent edition which featured a Special Report on Legal Technology/Social Media.
Through social media, the Internet is once again profoundly changing the world in which we live and how we operate.
The social networking avenues of the Internet – such as writing a blog, connecting with other professionals on LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+ and Twitter – give virtual access to millions of potential clients to anyone who wants to take advantage of it. Lawyers are inherently conservative and loath to try anything new. But it’s hard to ignore what everyone else is doing on the Internet and it’s not surprising that law firms want a piece of the social media pie.
Just because the world has gone virtual, the reality that lawyers get clients by word-of-mouth hasn’t changed. Word-of-mouth is still the most powerful referral mechanism and the basic tenet of networking. What’s different in the age of social media is “how” an attorney’s word-of-mouth reputation develops. Social networking, whether on the Internet or in person, is and always will be a matter of connecting and building relationships with thought leaders and potential clients.
Lawyers who were struggling to learn to use computers just a few years ago now realize that it’s not uncommon for people who have been using social networking for a while to be “followed” in some fashion by a significant audience. What’s even more obvious is that clients make the decision to hire an attorney in a particular area of law based upon social media.
Getting noticed on the Internet is similar to the old-fashioned way of getting noticed in the community for doing the right things. Lawyers publish blogs to enhance their reputation, demonstrate professional capacity and grow the firm’s business and their own practices. Blogging allows potential clients to distinguish one firm from another. Clients – whether small businesses, corporate executives or in-house counsel – hire lawyers they recognize as trusted and knowledgeable authorities in their field.
By researching issues in the law and by sharing what is learned through blogging, attorneys can quickly establish a widespread reputation as an expert in that area. In a short time, a lawyer’s blog can accumulate a body of easily accessed, relevant commentary to be read by potential clients and the people who influence clients, such as the media. My law blog at LoTempiolaw.com got noticed by the editors of this publication and that’s how I got the opportunity to write this guest column.
Among online networking sites, LinkedIn has emerged as the online “water cooler” for professionals to gather around. LinkedIn is now publicly traded and has grown to more than 135 million members in 200 countries. LinkedIn encourages users to “Change the way you communicate. Change the way you do business.”
The profile you create for LinkedIn allows you to present yourself and your law firm to millions of people. For example, my 612 connections on LinkedIn link me directly to 4,888,511 LinkedIn members.
You can log in to LinkedIn and read the most recent high-profile stories in your industry. You can join groups and discuss topics that are unique to what you do. You can follow like-minded attorneys who are discussing trends and important legal cases. You can join the conversation and build relationships for free.
Social media vehicles such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Youtube and Facebook are used by lawyers to promote their firms’ Web page and articles from their blog on a personal level. Social networking sites such as these employ advanced search engines that, combined, receive billions of search queries each day from their hundreds of millions of users.
It should be noted that instead of using the traditional “Google search,” more and more potential clients are using the social network search engines.
Based upon this trend alone, law firms need to ask themselves: “What are we doing to move on from a Google search world to the social media world?” People looking for a lawyer turn to people they trust. Today, relationships of trust for many people are established via social networks.
When considering taking the social media plunge, the biggest question from attorneys is: “Where do I find the time to social network? And is all the effort worth the results?” A member wrote on a LinkedIn discussion board last week that he was “looking for volunteers at his Law Firm to write on the firm’s blog.” Yes, blogging and social networking at the various popular social media sites take some time, effort and there is a learning curve, but it is part of requisite business development if you are interested in becoming a successful lawyer.
Successful lawyers traditionally spend time on a weekly basis on practice development. That’s not time talking to existing clients – it’s time spent finding ways to get in front of and to communicate with new people. Social networking online is an opportunity to extend the scope of practice development efforts to an unlimited audience. The point of any networking campaign is to be accessible and relevant, which necessarily requires some work. There is a direct correlation between the effort put into social networking and the results obtained.
Using many social networking avenues on the Internet is the first step in getting a “piece of the social media pie.” I wonder if, as the social media party becomes more widespread and more and more people join in, will it be harder to get noticed? Everything in life is ever changing and there is a constant learning curve in anything we do, but I believe that no matter how many people join in, establishing relationships online is the backbone of any social media campaign in your legal community. And the reality is that the community is now virtually the whole world.