Social media's revolution of the legal world
Many lawyers have taken to social media like ducks to water, Nick Rees explains
The proliferation of social media in the business world has been fairly rapid when you consider LinkedIn was established around 14 years ago and Twitter just 11 years ago. These platforms are still relatively new, but businesses across the board have certainly embraced social media and many use the platforms to great effect. And they would be silly not to, with 328 million monthly active Twitter users and 467 million LinkedIn users worldwide, according to statistics from Statista.
It’s almost unthinkable now for a consumer brand not to have a significant online presence and these platforms often create opportunity and, sometimes, valuable column inches. Just think of the most retweeted tweet of all time – 3.4 million users recently retweeted a student’s plea for a year’s supply of chicken nuggets which US fast food chain Wendy’s duly granted. This generated press all over the world for the brand and really underlined the power social media now has.
And it is not just a place for students to blag free stuff – many legal businesses have really harnessed the power of these platforms and the way that business development is done has radically changed. According to research from Propero Partners, 90 per cent of those lawyers surveyed have a firm LinkedIn profile and 84 per cent have a Twitter account.
Lots of legal professionals have harnessed the power of online to produce must-read content – be it on blogs or social media platforms. For example, the UK Human Rights blog, run by Adam Wagner from 1 Crown Office Row, has been nominated for numerous awards and pulls in around 100,000 page views each month.
We’ve certainly seen the ‘fear-factor’ around social media lessen among many solicitors and barristers. As the so-called ‘millennials’ join the profession it’s also natural to see the use of social media increase – this is a generation much more comfortable with interacting and sharing information online.
Who does it better, solicitors or barristers?
It is fair to say that most law firms have business-wide social media accounts and for the individual solicitors who tweet, there’s usually a social media strategy in place to ensure they are using the platforms appropriately. As always with these sorts of innovations, there is a disparity and we see some firms engaging with social media in a more proactive and creative way, while others do just the bare minimum. But generally it is fair to say law firms are alive to the benefits and opportunities social media can create.
For a chambers it can understandably be a little more problematic to ensure consistency in message and tone as individual barristers, if engaged with social media, will tend to have their own ideas around how they want to cultivate their online presence and how they use the platforms to gain a following and potentially win work.
However, although there are more challenges facing barristers’ chambers there is a way to harness social media and control the messages being pushed out online. As with many of these sorts of things, education is key. It is worth organising internal training to explain the social media strategy and outline how members of chambers and staff can get involved with social media and contribute to the sets’ overall aim. It is certainly a worthwhile activity – a strong online presence does boost brand and can also attract clients.
Encouraging sharing of information is also important – inevitably law firms and sets will have individuals who are more au fait with Twitter and LinkedIn and it’s important to encourage these individuals to share their top tips and how they make it work for them. A collaborative and collegiate approach will help foster online success.
Risks and rewards
First, let’s tackle the risks of engaging on social media. And of course, faux pas happen all the time, just as they would in real-life, at a networking event or a cocktail party. Recent cases like Monroe v Hopkins serve to shine a spotlight on the dangers of tweeting in a cavalier way – this libel action over a tweet sent by Katie Hopkins resulted in her having to pay Jack Monroe £24,000 in damages and £107,000 in costs.
Likewise, solicitors and barristers should be careful how they describe themselves online. This was brought into sharp focus recently after the Bar Standards Board delivered a £1,000 slap on the wrist to Michael Wolkind QC of 2 Bedford Row for describing himself on his website as the ‘UK’s top criminal barrister’ as well as publishing a client testimonial saying he could get ‘Stevie Wonder a driving licence’. The BSB deemed these assertions as ‘likely to diminish the trust and confidence’ of the public.
For law firms, an individual with a strong social media presence could start to skew the balance of work – of course, clients like to work with a lawyer with legal skill and a commercial mind, but equally, people also like to work with friendly individuals, or, more relevant, those who are ‘social’.
Social media allows personality to shine through, in addition to creating a place for successes and high-profile wins to be promoted. Therefore we are starting to see social media impact where work comes from for solicitors, and the same can be said for barristers, who are increasingly receiving instructions direct from lay clients. Clients are savvier than ever and a quick search will reveal if a barrister or solicitor has a social media profile and for some individuals this may well sway their decision.
We’re also seeing social media impact how firms and chambers are structured internally and specific roles are also changing or being created. Some law firms have designated social media managers who are tasked with looking after online channels and marketing teams across the board in the legal profession will usually be in charge of pushing individuals to engage on social media. For clerks in particular we are seeing this role diversify, with individuals in these roles not just expected to carry out the traditional clerking jobs but also include significant marketing and business development.
Many barristers’ chambers and solicitors’ firms which still operate more traditionally and are seeing quality work come through the door may well ask why they need to engage with social media, when they aren’t losing out on work. However, it is still important that sets and firms have a cultivated, rather than organic, online presence. As discussed previously, by failing to engage with social media an organisation is running the risk that individuals will run riot and post inappropriately or in a tone not fitting with the firm’s reputation and brand.
Equally, it’s important to avoid complacency – lots of firms and sets are engaging well on social media and failing to have a seat at the table can only be detrimental to a brand. Platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn are not fads and won’t go away – they are very much established as part of the marketing mix and it is better to engage sooner rather than later.
Failing to have a good presence may also impact future recruitment – the younger generations of lawyers will naturally check a firm or set’s social media channels and some may well be less keen on joining if they perceive the brand to be less ‘switched on’ and innovative.
Nick Rees is managing director at GRL Legal