Social Networking Websites

Small law firms have many of the same management issues as Biglaw firms, but often deal with them differently — for example, setting billable hour requirements and adjusting pay scales to keep their lawyers happy (or at least just happy enough not to quit). One such issue that keeps coming to my attention is social media marketing.

Biglaw firms have formal departments to handle logos, social media, and the overall direction of their firms’ brands. Small firms have… well, they have the attorneys and maybe a do-it-all firm manager (like we had at my old firm). Thus is born a market for the web and SEO experts.

But wait, this is not what you think! This is not another self-help article about how to fix your website or use Twitter (like a pro!). There are more than enough of those.

Instead, I want to explore a less popular position…

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In the comments earlier today, I remarked that it feels like law students are gearing up for finals. You can just tell. We’re getting more and more psuedo-substantive legal arguments that only look at one side of the issue, but are said as if the commenter is some kind of expert in whatever law he or she is talking about.

It’s cute. I really like this time of year. It’s like watching chicks frantically trying to learn how to fly before the flock has to migrate south.

[Cue David Attenborough voice] While it appears that the youngsters are having fun and games, this is a time of deadly seriousness for the students. Nerves are getting frayed; passions are inflamed. In the American South, we have an example of just what can happen when two law students collide over proper social etiquette at a time when ‘A’s are scarce. At a place called Florida State University College of Law, a missed assignment sent two dominant females into the arena called “Facebook”….

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This morning, the Senate had a TSA oversight hearing to discuss serious issues around secure air travel, notably the use of see-through-your-clothes scanners and aggressive “crotchal area” patdowns. A highlight was the TSA head offering any of the senators that wanted one a sample patdown to experience it for themselves. No happy ending guaranteed.

For the patdowns and scanners, that is. “There must be a way to figure out how to do what’s necessary… and for the privacy concern to be addressed because it’s legitimate,” said Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison in her opening remarks.

Frequent flyers are increasingly annoyed with their air travel experiences, whether they’re being scanned, felt up, paying for extra bags, or having their flights delayed or canceled. One U.K. man turned to Twitter in January to vent his frustration when his visit to a lady friend in Ireland was thwarted by a snowstorm. Paul Chambers tweeted, “Robin Hood airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your sh*t together, otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!!”

The British sense of humor tends to be dry. Chambers’s was too dry for the courts there. He was convicted of being a menace and ordered to pay $4,800 in costs and fines. When his appeal was denied last week, it caused an explosion on Twitter. And those protest tweets will soon be turned over to police…

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What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Unless it involves defamatory Facebook postings and a retaliatory lawsuit.

The new CBS show The Defenders has Jim Belushi and Jerry O’Connell dramatizing and glamorizing the life and work of Las Vegas attorneys. But for the real attorneys working in the tumbleweeds of Nevada, it can be a tough gig. Ask Jonathan Goldsmith, a “60% Bankruptcy / 10% Family Law / 10% Criminal Defense / 5% Personal Injury” of counsel at Rosenfeld & Rinato. (They don’t bother with associates there — you’re either of counsel or a founding partner, even if you’re just two years out of law school; Goldsmith is a 2009 University of Las Vegas law grad.)

Goldsmith was plaintiff’s counsel in a divorce case, and the husband being divorced, Jordan Cooper, took a disliking to him. Which he naturally expressed on Facebook…

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I’d like to believe we live on a planet where reason dictates the choices we make as well as the policies of law firms. As numerous personal experiences and Above the Law articles have demonstrated to me, this isn’t always the case. And nowhere is this irrationality more perplexing than firm policies towards LinkedIn recommendations.

LinkedIn has a feature that allows lawyers and clients to write recommendations of each other. For a recommendation to be published online, it has to “accepted” by the person being recommended. The problem is, major law firms are prohibiting the use of LinkedIn recommendations by their attorneys (both inbound and outbound). Referrals and peer-to-peer recommendations are the lifeblood of most practices.

So why are so many firms prohibiting their use online?

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This past week, bestselling author Seth Godin pointed out that most bloggers and users of social media are failing miserably:

There are millions of songs on iTunes that have sold zero copies. Millions of blog posts that get zero visitors each day.

The long tail is real… given the ability, people create more variety. Given the choice, people seek out what’s just right for them to consume. But, and there’s a big but, there’s no guarantee that the ends of the long tail start producing revenue or traffic. And a million times zero is still zero.

So what are attorneys with little or no traffic to their blogs doing wrong? Let’s discuss….

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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?

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“The secret to happiness in life is setting low expectations.”
– My Uncle Lyman

Over the past few weeks, in the comments to my ATL posts, there have been a number of questions about whether or not large law firms are bringing in real clients through their law blogs. While we have seen some instances of big wins that have come as a direct result of law blogs, these have been rare. What about the average law blogs? Have blogs lived up to the expectations of Biglaw firms?

My inquiry began by looking at all the law blogs of the Am Law 100 firms. Click here to see the full list. As you can see from the chart, the majority of the law blogs come from just a few firms. In fact, 5 percent of the firms account for 49 percent of the total law blogs of the Am Law 100.

So I went directly to these firms and asked them: Have the law blogs been worth it? Have they been worth the money, the effort, and the (expensive) billable time of the attorneys?

I spoke to several law firm partners and marketing officers to find out….

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In a classic Seinfield episode, Jerry gets the phone number of a girl he is interested in from off of a list of people donating money for the AIDS Walk. Jerry does his best to keep this a secret from the girl, but eventually he lets it slip to George, who lets it slip to Susan, who tells her friend, who spills it it to the girl. The girl ends things with Jerry, offended that he would use a charity list to pick her up.

Why did she care? Because the way people get our information and how they use it matter to us. People hold on to their contact info as if it were solid gold. You give up your phone number and email address too easily, and you will be forever harassed by spam.

People do give up their email addresses, though, especially in exchange for information that they really want, or to people they like. This allows for something called permission marketing, an extremely powerful tool for building a prospect list for your practice. List building is an essential aspect of business development that is far too often overlooked. Often lost in the debate over the viability of social media is an improper or ineffective utilization of existing contact lists….

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The firm that blogs together, stays together.

Are you a superstar or a team player? When it comes to law blogs, the question is: do you have your own blog, or are you part of a team that writes a group blog? With over 45% of the Am Law 200 now using blogs, amid mounting evidence that blogs bring both publicity and business, many firms are trying to figure out the best way to build a successful blog.

For those of you who have been living underground for the last year, here is how the two different types of blogs work.

The Personal Law Blog

Lawyer X starts blogging. He is an expert in Computer Fraud Law, and as he blogs and shares his knowledge, he gains credibility and brings publicity to the firm, in the form of website traffic and media mentions. He starts to be seen as a subject matter expert, which helps him build relationships and expand his book of business. The firm makes more money and everybody is happy.

This is one strategy. The second strategy is to have multiple authors in a group law blog.

The Group Law Blog

Lawyers A, B, C, D and E come together as a group to write a blog about Video Game Law. Each week, one or two authors write a blog post that leads to greater exposure for the firm. The practice group is seen as more cutting edge, RFPs can mention the blog, and the increased web traffic results in phone calls that lead to more business. Everyone is happy.

So which type of law blog is right for your firm? I took this question to several active members of the online legal community to get their perspectives….

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