Blogging, Facebook, Small Law Firms, Social Networking Websites, Twittering

Small Firms, Big Lawyers: 7 Reasons to Avoid Social Media

Ed. note: This is the latest installment of Small Firms, Big Lawyers, one of Above the Law’s new columns for small-firm lawyers.

Most small law firms are staying away from social media when it comes to marketing, according to a new report from Chicago-based Total Attorneys. The report, which you can see here (a short 6-page PDF), had a section about which marketing methods solos and small firms found most effective. The leading methods were:

  • online directories (17.7%);
  • word of mouth — which isn’t really a method, but more of a thing that happens (15.5%);
  • group-advertising ventures (whatever the hell that is) (13.3%); and
  • Yellow Pages (8.9%).

The takeaway for me from that list is that small-firm lawyers don’t know what they’re doing when it comes to marketing. “Word of mouth” means sit back and hope someone tells someone else to hire me, “group-advertising ventures” sounds like some sort of mail-order scam, and I didn’t know they still printed Yellow Pages. When my daughter asked me what Yellow Pages were, I told her that they were what little kids used to sit on to reach the table. (Sorry, Yellow Pages advertisers. Oh, wait. You’re not reading this because you’re offline.)

But the more-interesting fact to come out of this report is that two-thirds of respondents don’t do social-media marketing at all.…

Only 35% report doing online networking, 37% use social media, and 33% write blogs. Even assuming those numbers are accurate (and there’s no way that a third of all small-firm lawyers are blogging), it means that most small-firm lawyers are avoiding social media.

I asked social-media expert Michelle Golden, author of Social Media Strategies for Professionals and Their Firms, why firms avoid social media. (By the way, she would grimace at the social-media-expert title, and would never use it herself. But I can, and just did. Plus she wrote a freakin’ book, so she’s an expert, like it or not.) Here are the most common reasons for staying unpluggged:

1. “I don’t know how to use The Twitter. I don’t even know what it is.”
Totally fair point. Lack of knowledge and understanding about the various social-media platforms is a legitimate reason for not using them … yet. But it also means you need to hurry up and get yourself into 2011 (and for Pete’s sake, pronounce it “twenty eleven”). It takes some time and a little effort to learn about the different tools. While I joined LinkedIn during its first year (2003) and started blogging in 2006, I didn’t join Twitter and Facebook until 2009 (and I’m only now just starting to figure out the business use of Facebook). About a third of Golden’s book is dedicated to teaching lawyers and other professionals how to use The Twitter and the other tools. You should probably start by reading it.

2. “What if it makes us look unprofessional?”
Again, another valid concern. Lawyers often hear horror stories about social-media use gone awry. (See the recent ABA Journal article “Seduced: For Lawyers, the Appeal of Social Media Is Obvious. It’s Also Dangerous.” It’s a well-written article, but unnecessarily alarmist.) The bottom line is that idiots are going to do things that make them look unprofessional no matter what. Don’t blame the tools. If you’re worried that the lawyers in your firm won’t be grown-up enough to properly use social media, then you’ve got a personnel problem, not a social-media problem.

3. “I can’t bill for the hours on Facebook or a blog.”
Well, yes, that’s true. And I’ll admit I have it easier than you, since I stopped billing hourly in 2006. But truth be told, no marketing activity is billable, so if that’s your hang-up, how are you doing any marketing? It’s true that in the old days, lawyers didn’t have to do marketing, so it wasn’t a problem. But these are the 2010s. No, you can’t bill hours for your time using social media, but you can use it to develop your firm’s brand and get more business. Then you can bill all the hours you want. (Although why would you?)

4. “Connecting online is less personal than in person or on the phone.”
Yes, that’s true. But I can connect to 2,345 people at once on Twitter and tell them about something that’s on my mind or that I think they should read. It would take a lot more time to make all those phone calls or have random acts of lunch. Plus, you can develop lasting professional relationships on social media that can lead to real-word connections. I agree: a face-to-face conversation is more meaningful. But social media can get you more of those, too.

5. “We might get sued.”
For what? For something you wrote? Give me a break. If you are so stupid as to commit libel or breach attorney-client privilege over social media, then I can’t help you anyway. And if you honestly think that someone might read what you wrote and then act on it with bad results and then bring a credible lawsuit against you for your “bad advice,” then I’m amazed that you’re brave enough to get out of bed each morning. I’m willing to rely on my, you know, “lawyering skills” to defend me from crazy-ass lawsuits over people who think that they’re my clients but aren’t.

6. “We might offend someone.”
Well, maybe. Particularly if you take a position on something. I’m fairly certain that I offend all kinds of people with every post I write on three different blogs. But if I didn’t write this way, and instead worried about upsetting people, no one would want to read it. If you’re trying to be all things to all people, then you should definitely stay away from social media. Because you’ll fail much more quickly that way. But if you’re just trying to be you, then social media will help you connect with the people who will want to work with you.

7. “I’ve got Martindale and the Yellow Pages. What more do I need?”
Yeah, I can’t help you. Please go away.

Social media takes some commitment and education and time. But it’s not a passing fad; it’s here to stay. Just as lawyers in the nineties were nervous about email and websites, they finally came to realize that these were valuable tools. Now we can’t live without them. It’s the same thing with social media. If you want to grow your practice or further your career, put aside your excuses and start learning how to use social media.

(DISCLOSURE: Golden interviewed me for her book, and I received a courtesy copy from the publisher, John Wiley & Sons. We’ve since become friends, as well as colleagues at the VeraSage Institute, a think tank for professional-knowledge firms. But no one asked me to review Golden’s book, which is excellent, despite her momentary lapse in judgment that led to her including me in it. Nobody’s perfect.)


Jay Shepherd has run the Boston management-side employment-law boutique Shepherd Law Group for the past 13 years. Jay also runs Prefix, LLC, which helps lawyers and clients value and price legal services. He writes the ABA Blawg 100 honoree The Client Revolution, which focuses on reinventing the business of law, and Gruntled Employees, a workplace blog. Follow Jay on Twitter at @jayshep, or email him at js@shepherdlawgroup.com.

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