Almost two years ago, I joined Twitter to help find a publisher for a book I was writing. A couple weeks later, a friend I followed on Twitter asked, “Does anybody know a contracts lawyer?” I responded and won a new client. A lawyer winning business on Twitter was somewhat unusual at that time, but it isn’t anymore. In the 2010 ABA Technology Survey Report, 10% of respondents “had a client retain their legal services as a result of use of online communities/social networking.” While 10% may seem small, it represents a dramatic shift in law firm attitudes towards social media.

So how are the successful attorneys doing it? By personally maintaining a presence online: 56% of attorneys reported having a presence in 2010, up from just 43% in 2009 and 15% in 2008. (In 2008, the social networks mentioned in the survey were Facebook, Second Life and LawLink — so times have changed a bit.) Bottom line is, there has been a clear shift over the last three years. Take a look at the classic innovation curve:

For those unfamiliar with the Rogers Innovation Curve, think of the first group of innovators as those who stood in line for the first iPhone, and the second group of early adopters as those who did their research and jumped on for the second version of the iPhone. The early majority represents widespread acceptance of the technology, and the late majority is when people like my father (who just recently stopped dictating emails to his secretary) buy iPhones. The laggards are those who have not yet figured out how to turn on their computers.

Participating in social networks is no longer a fringe activity enjoyed by the innovators and early adopters; it is now enjoyed by the early majority and a piece of the late majority. Social networks have hit the mainstream for lawyers, and since lawyers tend to lag behind the rest of the population in acceptance of new technology, I suspect there is even greater penetration among businesses and key decision makers.

How are different groups of lawyers responding to the social networking revolution?

Large firm lawyers vs. Solo practitioners

Large firm lawyers are more likely to be engage in social media than solo practitioners: 63% of large firm respondents (firms with over 100 attorneys) reported having a presence online, while only 52% of solo respondents reported having an online presence. This came as somewhat of a surprise because of the conservative nature of so many large firms. Solos have far more freedom to use social networks, but perhaps the demands of running a practice limit their participation.

Younger lawyers vs. more “senior” lawyers

Which demographic experienced the largest growth in social media use over the last year? Lawyers ages 60-69: 47% of 60-69 year-olds (compared to 26% in 2009) reported maintaining a presence in an online community/social network, which represents an increase of 80%. Lawyers ages 50-59 weren’t far behind: 50% reported maintaining an online presence, up from 35% in 2009. This represents an increase of 42%. The younger generations are higher in total numbers, with 77% of 30-39 year-olds using, but the growth rate is far smaller — only a 3-point jump from the 72% that had an online presence in 2009.

Which social networks are lawyers using?

The survey identified 83% of attorneys using LinkedIn, 68% using Facebook, and 18% using the scarcely talked about Plaxo (perhaps because it sounds more like medication than a social network.) Twitter was far behind with only 1.9% of lawyers reportedly using it on average. In large firms (those with 100 attorneys or more), however, 4.2% or respondents are using Twitter. So Twitter for some reason is more popular in the larger firms. It is interesting to contrast these numbers to those of the Corporate Counsel New Media Engagement Survey by Greentarget earlier this year, which asked in-house counsel which social networks they had used in the past 24 hours. For attorneys 30-39, a whopping 68% had used Facebook in the last 24 hours for personal reasons, while only 47% had used LinkedIn for professional reasons in the last 24 hours. Bottom line, significantly more time is spent on Facebook than LinkedIn, and this next year I expect lawyers will realize the importance of maintaining a presence in both places.

What about blogs?

Last week we talked about blogs in my post Have Law Blogs Failed to Live Up to Expectations? We looked at the Law blogs of the AmLaw and recognized that among law firms the use of blogs is still quite small. The ABA survey seemed to agree, showing that among large firms 30% had blogs (compared to 18% in the 2009 survey). So even though there are still a minority of firms with law blogs, there has been substantial growth over the last year. Overall 14% of respondents from firms of all sizes reported having blogs (compared to 9% in 2009). This data seems a little skewed downwards for small firms, probably because a large firm with 200 attorneys can report “yes” to having a blog when only 1 out of 200 of their attorneys blog. A small firm with 2 attorneys would report “no” unless one of the attorneys happened to blog.

The value of social networks increases exponentially as more and more people participate. With large populations now using multiple different networks, if you haven’t joined the party, it might be time to get started.

Have you brought in clients through your participation in social networks? Feel free to share with us what has worked and what hasn’t, or email your stories to info@adriandayton.com.

Earlier: Prior columns by Adrian Dayton


Adrian Dayton is a lawyer and writer who advises law firms about business development through social media. He is the author of Social Media for Lawyers: Twitter Edition. You can learn more about him on his website and follow him on Twitter.


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