Applying Social Media to the Law

When you hear the words “social media” what comes to mind?

a.  Reading Facebook profiles to get ready for your upcoming high school reunion only to realize that your old acquaintance would make a great expert witness

b.  Brainstorming with your colleague across the United States over instant messenger

c.  Answering a question on a LinkedIn discussion board and receiving a call from a potential client who has been searching for an attorney with your expertise

d.  Using wikis, blogs, vlogs, and forums to collaborate on cases and connect with associates, partners, and support staff worldwide

This wasn’t much of a multiple choice.   These four responses are all valid.  So are countless other ones.

Before I continue analyzing BigLaw’s web presence or explain Twitter Karma, TwitterFeed, TweetLater…or even explain the answers to the multiple choice question above…it’s time to put social media into context.

What is social media?  Let’s turn to our trusted Wikipedia:

Social media is the combination of activities that come together in a medium using one or more senses of sight, sound, or motion to create visual displays, picture-sharing opportunities, and the creation of shared-meaning through words and pictures by people. It is defined as engagement over a medium as compared to face-to-face. Social media uses the “wisdom of crowds” to create information in a collaborative manner. Social media can utilize many different forms, including text, images, audio, and video to provide context and meaning. Social media can take many different forms, including message boards, weblogs, wikis, podcasts, pictures, and video. Technologies such as blogs, picture-sharing, vlogs, wall-postings, email, instant messaging, music-sharing, group creation, and voice over IP, to name a few. Examples of social media applications are Goggle (sic.) (reference, social networking), Wikipedia (reference), MySpace (social networking), Facebook (social networking), Club Penguin (children’s social networking), iTunes (personal music), YouTube (social networking and video sharing), Second Life (virtual reality), and Flickr (photo-sharing).

Next, Wikipedia distinguishes between social media and traditional forms of media.  For our purposes, whether social media will one day usurp traditional media or whether the two services will be complementary is far too philosophical.  Nevertheless, this  juxtaposition clarifies what social media is.  Namely, social media gives users/consumers and service-providers/companies an opportunity to dialogue.  (Again, here’s wikipedia…)

Primarily, social media depend on interactions between people as the discussion and integration of words to build shared-meaning, using technology as a conduit.

Social media utilities create opportunities for the use of both inductive and deductive logic by their users. Claims or warrants are quickly transitioned into generalizations due to the manner in which shared statements are posted and viewed by all. The speed of communication, breadth, and depth, and ability to see how the words build a case solicits the use of rhetoric. Induction is frequently used as a means to validate or authenticate different users’ statements and words. Rhetoric is an important part of today’s language in social media.

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Social media is not finite: there is not a set number of pages or hours. The audience can participate in social media by adding comments,instant messaging or even editing the stories themselves.

OK.  We know the properties and qualities of social media.  Based on this description, however, should lawyers care about social media?  If so, why?  How will social media benefit someone in the legal industry?  In fact, not to be a contrarian, but shouldn’t lawyers focus on the law?

To answer these questions, we’ll look at the tools we have available and the possible uses in a legal practice.  We’ll also figure out how to analyze our results, focus on the R.O.I. to determine how these tools play a role in our overall business strategy and, therefore, how we should allocate our time.

I must reiterate that there’s no right answer to any of these questions.  With no right answer, social media is a bit of trial and error to find out what works for you, your clients, your firm, and your bottom line.

The extent that lawyers and law firms implement social media into their business models will vary.  Not only between solo practioners and large firms, but between practice groups within the same firm or even between office locations.

For the site, I will publish four articles per week (most likely, Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and every other Sunday night).  The first article of each week will be available to the public.  The second two articles will be available to registered subscribers.   One time subscriptions (4 weeks of content) will be available for $12.95.  6-month subscriptions will be available for  $9.95/month.

Those who purchase either subscription, for the duration of their subscription, I will be available for unlimited e-mail correspondence to answer questions, brainstorm, problem-solve, network, etc.

Of course, social media requires a dialogue.  Whether you pay for a subscription or read the first article of the week, please feel free to comment on any of the posts, ask questions, pose hypotheticals, question, and challenge.

Moreover, I’d love to hear from lawyers who have implemented social media tools about their results.  What worked?  What didn’t?  I’m open to phone, face-to-face interviews, or guest posts.

Though I’m rambling about lawyers, I’d also love to hear from law firm marketing departments, recruiting departments, associate development committees, associates, and support staff about their thoughts on social media and how it works.

Similarly, I’d love to hear from any law firm’s brave IT department who is willing to speak about server risks, confidentiality, and privacy in order to sober the social media fantatics out there (me!)

On the other days, I will be available for individual and group consulting sessions.  Depending on the needs of the session, it may be an hour or a full-day workshop.

Depending on costs and location, these can be done by video conferencing or in person. My goal is to keep prices reasonable and competitive.

As a former recruiter, I am also happy to assist companies with finding the right person to handle and organize the web strategy within the firm.

While it is not necessary to bring in an outside person to run the firm’s “social marketing campaigns,” the talent that is there needs to be quite clear about their strengths and weaknesses in terms of the overall plan.

Again, I am happy to consult during the preliminary stages on finding the most rock star team.

Excerpt from further reading,  10 Harsh Truths about Corporate Websites:

Managing Your Website Is A Full-Time Job

Not only is the website often split between marketing and IT, it is also usually under-resourced. Instead of there being a dedicated Web team, those responsible for the website are often expected to run it alongside their “day job.” When a Web team is in place, it is often over-stretched. The vast majority of its time is spent on day-to-day maintenance rather than longer-term strategic thinking.

This situation is further aggravated by the fact that the people hired to “maintain” the website are junior members of the staff. They do not have the experience or authority to push the website forward. It is time for organizations to seriously invest in their websites by hiring full-time senior Web managers to move their Web strategies forward.

There are countless possibilities once the decision has been made to try to implement a few techniques as to who is in charge and what work is delegated where.  Rather than of whose making the decisions to do more with social media, which managerial groups within the law firm to which these will fall, and who would be the best candidate

Finally, the legal industry is what I know best.   Law school is where I first became passionate about social media when I realized there was an exchange taking place in the blogosphere between lawyers, judges, law professors, and little 1L me was invited to share my opinions!

Nevertheless, the topics we’ll cover may be relevant to a number of different industries and/or professions.  Feel free to listen in and share your own insights.

With that said, there’s still a 24-hour countdown until the new site (…how I wish I could have three more days…).  For the first few weeks, during the transition, there may be some kinks.  If you ever need an article e-mailed to you, let me know.

So, this is a little like hello post and a little like a goodbye post.  We’re moving up in the world.