Biglaw, Blogging, Social Networking Websites, Technology

Social Media Policies for Legal Types

After CNN editor Octavia Nasr got the boot for an indiscreet tweet, Fast Company was inspired to do a series of stories on companies’ social media policies: “guidelines about how its employees (and freelancers and interns) should represent themselves on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media destinations.”

In the most recent piece in the series, Fast Company looked at Harvard Law’s guidelines for its bloggers. It approved of Harvard’s straightforward approach:

Think this one is going to be dense and chock-full of legalese? Though it’s not exactly written in plain English, the one page document titled “Terms of Use” is a straightforward take on how to blog under Harvard’s domain. Not surprisingly, the first point deals with copyrights, but goes on to include:

“As a general matter, you may post content freely to your blog and to those of others, so long as the content is not illegal, obscene, defamatory, threatening, infringing of intellectual property rights, invasive of privacy or otherwise injurious or objectionable.

Well, that takes all the fun out of it, doesn’t it?

You may not use the Harvard name to endorse or promote any product, opinion, cause or political candidate. Representation of your personal opinions as institutionally endorsed by Harvard University or any of its Schools or organizations is strictly prohibited.”

So no endorsement of Elena Kagan allowed over there?

There’s a burgeoning awareness of social media in the law firm world. When we were in Chicago for an in-house counsel conference, we met a lawyer who had chucked the practice of law to advise law firms on how to use social media. We asked him about guidelines for law firms and lawyers when it comes to Facebooking, blogging, and celebrity endorsements via Twitter…

Adrian Dayton

Adrian Dayton, who runs a blog devoted to Marketing Strategy and the Law, thinks lawyers are part of a law firm’s brand, and should be unleashed upon the world to promote what a firm does.

As to law firm social media guidelines, he tells us:

I advise that the social media policy be as simple as a single sentence:

“Don’t say stupid things.”

The problem is, law firms don’t trust their associates (with good reason, many of them are famous for saying stupid things) but the point is law firms need to be careful not to have a chilling effect on the media coming out of their law firm.

If law firms really want to discourage social media use by their lawyers, there is a simple approach: require that every Tweet, blog post, or Facebook message go through a committee for approval. It doesn’t matter how quickly the approval process works, the result will be the same: discouraging the creation of new content and limiting the benefits that can be gained from showing real thought leadership.

Can you imagine an attorney sitting at a cocktail party and texting his managing partner before he brings up a new discussion topic at the table? It isn’t necessary; the lawyer knows that he is representing the firm and that his job is on the line. Isn’t that motivation enough?

Social media use by lawyers is a process, just like anything else. Law firms have a great process for accounting, marketing, client intake, and collecting on outstanding invoices. They don’t have a process for social media yet, it doesn’t really fit into any existing box- so many firms think if they will simply stall on creating a policy, that social media will go away.

It isn’t going away, and while the large firms wait for their social media policies, other smaller and more agile firms are pumping out quality content, engaging through LinkedIN, JD Supra, and Martindale-Hubble Connected. The small firms are gaining the attention that could be easily won by the big firms.

It isn’t really about the social media policy thought, its more about the process- and law firms need to figure out what TO DO with social media as opposed to what should be prohibited.

My guess? It will take them far too long to figure it out.

One final thought, don’t let your social media policy be written by people that have never used the tools. This is much like the Florida courts deciding that Judges should not be allowed to “friend” judges. It shows a clear misunderstanding of the way these networks operate. Whoever writes the policy needs to spend a couple of weeks plugged in on Twitter or Facebook. They need to really experience what the credible dangers are, and understand how the online communities operate. That way they will realize that the concern should not be that your attorneys might say something stupid, but that they have brilliant thoughts and ideas that nobody will ever know about.

Does your firm have an official policy when it comes to social media? Put it in the comments. Or email it to us. Or Facebook it to us. Or tweet it at us. We’re all over social media.

Corporate Social Media Policies: The Good, the Mediocre, and the Ugly [Fast Company]
More Social Media Policies: LA Times, Harvard Law, Microsoft, and Cisco [Fast Company]
Open Letter to Law Firms: Control The Message [Marketing Strategy and the Law]

Earlier: Many In-House Counsel Are Social Media Savvy. But Biglaw Firms? Not So Much.

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