So it’s time to take the plunge.
You’ve read through all the articles and blog posts. You’ve seen the IBM “social business” commercials on T.V at least a dozen times. Perhaps you have even dipped a toe in the water by setting up a Twitter or LinkedIn account for yourself. So now what? How do you start on the journey of rebuilding your legal practice as a social business?
It seems like a daunting task – particularly since you can anticipate the response from your firm’s executive committee will most likely be that social media is nothing more than a passing business fad. Most law firms are incredibly resistant to change, painfully slow and deliberative in the approach to any innovation. And all too often a managing partner’s first question is – what are our peer firms doing instead of considering whether a new idea makes sense.
As consultants specializing in the use of social media for professional service firms, this is a challenge that we deal with every day. The good news is that you don’t need to get buy in from your executive committee in order to get started. This is the first of a series of posts that will discuss a few of the ways to begin experimenting and learning about social media that are more modest or experimental in fashion. It’s all part of the journey.
The best place to start is LinkedIn, which bills itself as the networking site for professionals. Or you might think of it as Facebook for the corporate world. Started a decade ago, it already claims more than 220 million members worldwide, about a third of them in the U.S.
If you work at a large law firm, it’s likely you already have a LinkedIn profile, as many firms upload staff bios to LinkedIn the same way they do to Martindale and West. But LinkedIn is much more than an online directory and it’s definitely worth exploring it in order to see how the business world is acclimating itself to social media.
Whether or not your firm has already uploaded a profile for you, it’s a vital first step to create an updated profile that provides detailed information about your practice, interests and experience. I would also recommend injecting a personal touch or two into your listing to avoid making it too bland or formulaic. Of course, it’s a good idea to check out how lawyers at other firms have presented themselves and worth reviewing listings for other professions. And if you’re a lawyer who likes checklists, here is a helpful blog post to get you started.
With your profile complete, the next step is to start adding people to your network. LinkedIn makes this easy by allowing you to enter your email contact list and then identifying which of your contacts are already on LinkedIn. Another way to do this is by entering your college, law school or employment information, here again LinkedIn will provide you with information about members of your network already on LinkedIn.
Once you establish your personal network, you should spend time exploring LinkedIn groups. There are thousands of them, many with sizable and very active memberships, including a number of them devoted to legal practice areas. However, don’t just join groups for lawyers. Remember one of LinkedIn’s greatest strengths is that its membership is drawn from across the business world, so this is a great chance to see and be seen as a member of non-legal groups that relate to your practice as well. As an M&A lawyer you may find it useful to join a group devoted to the telecom or energy industry. Or a tort litigator might be interested to join a pharmaceutical industry group. Some groups you will be able to join right away, others require the acceptance of the group owner.
As a group member, you’ll be able to monitor questions or topics posted by other members and read through the discussion threads spawned by those questions. Most groups will notify you via email when there are new discussions or new comments on older discussions. Here is where you can start to make your mark in the social world. Look for opportunities to demonstrate your knowledge and experience. If you see people posting questions or starting discussion where you have something valuable to add, then by all means do so. Here is your opportunity to start building relationships and establishing yourself as a thought leader in your field.
But remember, particularly when posting comments in a LinkedIn non-legal forum, you want to avoid any risk of creating an inadvertent client relationship. (Most firms automatically append a disclaimer to the footer of email messages but this will not be included when you post a message into a LinkedIn group.) So it’s important to look carefully at your jurisdiction’s applicable rules to see how they affect participation on LinkedIn and other social networking sites. Many jurisdictions do require disclaimers and if your jurisdiction is one of them, you must include it. It may also be a good practice for lawyers to include some form of disclaimer on their LinkedIn profile.
Once you have contributed to other people’s discussions and you feel comfortable with the style of the group, then, and only then, should you start posting your own content or start your own discussions.
This post is the first post in a series that will provide assistance to lawyers seeking to gain a better understanding of social media and how to rebuild their practice as a social practice.