You can find clients on Facebook and LinkedIn. Or, more to the point, they can find you. But only if you go about it the right way. The good news? That usually means following your interests and passions and being yourself.
Networking has long been a leading way for lawyers to bring in legal work, with some of the best business garnered via word of mouth and reputation.
And whether that networking takes place at a bar association event, a golf outing, or a black-tie benefit for charity, success isn't necessarily about leaving the party with a thick stack of business cards.
"It's not going to do any good if you don't do anything with it," said attorney Allison C. Shields, president of New York-based Legal Ease Consulting, Inc.
The same can be said of lawyer networking and marketing via multi-million-member social media platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn, where one of the highlights associated with each user is an up-to-date tally of the number of online "friends" or "connections" made.
Consider the act of setting up a profile and building a network on LinkedIn, where lawyers and other legal professionals constitute one of the largest groups of users.
"It's not about collecting the most connections you can get," said Shields, who helps lawyers with law practice management and marketing issues, including improving their use of LinkedIn and other social media platforms.
Rather, Shields said, "You learn something [about the business connections] and continue that conversation.…Send them an individual message, either by email or through the service. Maybe it's a link to an article, or maybe it's connecting them to somebody you know who can be helpful to them, or getting involved in a group they're involved in. Or, just in your updates to your entire network, you're including information that would be helpful."
It's about relationships
Social media as a lawyer marketing tool is just an extension of the way you network offline, Shields said.
"For a lawyer, you're building relationships with potential clients, you're building relationships with other attorneys, you're building relationships with referral sources. You have to ask, What's the best strategy for doing that and how can I translate that from the real world to online?" she said. "Lawyers who are networking, whether it be by participating in bar associations or the community, what do they do if they want to establish relationships? They meet, then follow up, tell the person what their needs are.…If you meet somebody at an event, then what would you do next? You're trying to move the relationship forward.
"It's the same thing when you set up a profile, for example, on LinkedIn."
If a key approach to effective networking is to go to where your target market is, then the internet age's social media - which include blogs and Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google Plus, video-sharing sites, and other vehicles for electronic communication through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, messages, and other content - is an obvious hot spot.
Still, while the knee-jerk reaction may be to focus primarily on how using social media is going to help build your practice, "If you go into using social media expecting that it will immediately and directly yield results in the form of new business, [you're] likely to be disappointed," said Chicago attorney Evan D. Brown, whose popular InternetCases.com blog recently marked its eighth birthday.
Brown, who is also an avid user of Twitter and LinkedIn and has both a transactional and litigation practice focused on information technology and intellectual property law as a senior counsel at InfoLawGroup LLP, said it's a circuitous route from a lawyer's point of entry into social media to someone "walking through the door with a retainer check."
"There are these other, much-more-difficult-to-quantify benefits. Those benefits are to the lawyer and community, and they don't always translate into revenue," Brown said. "You often won't know whether and to what extent your social media activities contributed to the client's decision to hire you."
"For me, it has been the unusual situation for a client to find my blog, call me up, and hire me," Brown said.
For the most part, the way he has developed business through social media has been networking with potential sources for referrals, like the attorney on the west coast with clients facing a federal lawsuit in the northern district of Illinois, who hired Brown - whom he had gotten to know through Twitter - to represent them here.
"You can indeed get good paying work from using Twitter effectively. I'm living proof of that," Brown said. "It's really about the development of the relationship, and Twitter is the medium by which authentic, human relationships can be developed."
"Don't go into social media expecting you're going to make five dollars per blog post," Brown said. "It's so difficult to quantify. It's much more organic and artful and unsystematic."
It's all about them, not you
Lawyers generally were late adopters of social media, and many remain reluctant to add those online social networking tools to their marketing repertoire, Shields said.
"Part of it is their concern about confidentiality issues with clients, the ethical rules and where the boundaries are," Shields said. "A lot of the advertising rules in the different states are still, even now, not completely caught up with the technology. Advertising rules were written, really, in the age of print. In some cases they've been changed; in some they haven't."
What's more, Shields said, "There's a lot to learn with all of these platforms, and lawyers are busy. They're concentrating on doing work for clients. It's hard for them to find the time to do the marketing they know how to do already," let alone learn to use social media effectively, she said.
Those are legitimate concerns, at least to some extent, according to St. Louis-based information technology lawyer Dennis Kennedy, a well-known author and speaker on legal tech topics who blogs at http://denniskennedy.com.
As such, Kennedy said, lawyers should learn their jurisdiction's ethical rules that affect their participation in social media platforms. Whether your social media home is in Facebook or LinkedIn, in the blogosphere, on Twitter, or in a combination of them all and more, good judgment and common sense can be key in avoiding ethical pitfalls.
A general rule of thumb for lawyers is: "You really have to look at it as a parallel to what you do in the real world," Shields said. "Ask yourself: Would I say this if I were in a room full of people? If not, I shouldn't say this in a virtual room full of people."
That rule of thumb applies to lawyers looking to avoid ethical pitfalls as well as those who may be inclined to inundate Facebook friends, LinkedIn connections, or Twitter followers with streams of blatantly self-promotional posts, status updates, and Tweets, which tend to be ill-received in the social media realm.
"Avoid the blog posts and the Tweets and LinkedIn updates that say, 'Look at how wonderful our firm is.' Or, 'Look at our wonderful success.' There's a time and place to talk about those things, but those should not be the primary form of content," Brown said.
On Twitter, for instance, "Generate and share content that is relevant to followers because of what the followers want to hear," Brown said. "Seldom do I put a tweet up about what I have done or accomplished. I'll link to a blog post, but that's just in the spirit of sharing content that I hope my readers will find interesting."
On Facebook, which has ads for selling, users typically don't like to be "sold to" in friend updates that appear on their Facebook newsfeed, legal technologist Kennedy pointed out.
Shields put it this way: "Is it all promotional - all about you? If that's the case you're like the person at the networking event that everyone is trying to avoid."
As for concerns about social media activities taking away from potential billable hour time, Kennedy likes to say he has first-hand knowledge of how possible it is to participate in social networking sites without impinging on lawyer work time. Consider Facebook, Kennedy said, and where and when we commonly tend to see users engaged in the medium, checking in on the site while they're in restaurants or waiting rooms, standing in coffee shop lines, at sporting events, or watching TV.
"When you actually do it, it's outside [work] hours," Kennedy said. "What it takes away from is TV-watching time, for me. You can be having a whole conversation on Facebook while you're watching Top Chef, or during the commercials.
"Ultimately, it's less time than people think. Even with blogging. A lot of blog posts take 15 minutes of actual writing."
Leveraging lawyer-friendly LinkedIn
LinkedIn, which even has a special set of pages in its help section dedicated to lawyers - likely because of the site's popularity among this group of professionals - is perhaps the easiest point of entry into social media for lawyers, Shields said. She and Kennedy co-wrote LinkedIn in One Hour for Lawyers and Facebook in One Hour for Lawyers for the ABA (see sidebar).
"LinkedIn is and has always been a professional network. People are there as business people to do business, as opposed to some of the other sites where a lot of them are there for social purposes," Shields said.
In looking at social media platforms, it helps to think of online networking tools like LinkedIn in terms of three essential building blocks: the profile, which on LinkedIn is like an extended resume or professional biography; connections, which tend to reflect your business and professional relationships; and participation, which usually calls for a more professional and thoughtful tone.
"LinkedIn has been around so long and always had the impression of being very professional," Kennedy said. "You talk about connections, and there's resume-type material. It's very structured - that feels right to lawyers."
Kennedy offers a "classic example" of how lawyers can use social media tools like LinkedIn to further "real life" relationships. If you're planning to travel to another city, for instance, a great way to use LinkedIn is to tap into your list of connections and identify those clients or strategic partners who are in those cities and arrange a get-together with one or two of them while you're there, Kennedy said.
Lawyer LinkedIn users should also update regularly to stay "top of mind" with their network, the co-authors advised. "Lawyers think of LinkedIn as a way to get information to and make yourself better known to referrers of business," Kennedy said in an interview.
Here's an example of how this can be accomplished: "Say you're doing estate planning work," Kennedy said. "You use LinkedIn to connect with the financial planners, life insurance people, bank people you already deal with. The information, the updates you put into LinkedIn, would be useful to that group - something about developments in the law or useful tips - so those people will remember the next time somebody asks for an estate planning lawyer."
In the April 2012 American Bar Association GPSolo eReport, Kennedy and Shields highlighted 10 simple and specific steps lawyers can take to quickly improve their LinkedIn experience and results - no matter how active the user already is (see sidebar).
One of their tips is joining relevant LinkedIn groups - the Illinois State Bar Association's members-only group, for example, and groups that serve the clients you seek - and participating in the discussion.
Since LinkedIn is a network that works just like your real-life networking groups, except that it eliminates geographic constraints, groups can be a great way to learn about topics of interest and see what thoughts leaders are talking about in these areas.
"Use these groups as places to seek or give advice and discuss issues of interest," the co-authors noted. "You can demonstrate your expertise through group discussions and even get to know the leaders in your field."
Facebook without fear
Many lawyers are wary of Facebook and its more personal environment, and not without reason. Facebook is where "plenty of lawyers already have embarrassed themselves" and where a number of ethical opinions have been focused. In his article in the February 2013 issue of the ABA's Law Practice Today, Kennedy offered 13 Facebook tips for lawyers to "up [their] game" on the most popular social media platform, which now has more than one billion members (see sidebar).
His first tip advises lawyers to look for ethics guidance specifically on Facebook use, to add any necessary legal disclaimers, and to familiarize themselves with rules on advertising, solicitation, and confidentiality - "three big areas where lawyers have gone wrong."
That said, the social networking behemoth has undeniable marketing value - if the focus is on potential referrers rather than directly on potential clients, Shields said.
Like LinkedIn, Facebook features three building blocks: the just-revised timeline, which is far more personal and visual; friends and "friending," most of whom tend to be family members and real-world friends; and more personal participation than on LinkedIn.
"Lawyers tend to think of things in boxes: 'I'm a lawyer. That's my business side.' But we're really whole people," Shields said. "Even if you decide to use Facebook just socially, there are ways you can use it strategically so people still know what you do for a living, and you may get referrals from it."
Here's one way to do so, Kennedy said: "Your friends and your family [may] know you're a lawyer, but they don't know exactly what you do. Maybe from time to time, your updates on Facebook include helpful, practical information. Then they'll remember what work you actually do and say, 'My cousin or friend from college does estate planning work. You should talk to him.' Get yourself into the minds of people who already like you and know you."
If, for instance, you're an estate planning lawyer on Facebook, an update might be, "Here are four times when you need to think about revisiting your will: when someone dies, marries, etc.," Kennedy said. "[Other users] see that on Facebook as they scroll through and say, 'That's nice of him to do that. That's useful.' But they'll remember that that's the type of work you do."
In taking the Facebook exercise a bit further, Kennedy said, lawyers can join organized groups on the site and periodically provide some helpful information to users who share similar interests or backgrounds, along with some personal information.
Then, if there comes a time when a user seeks legal help and you, the lawyer "friend" on Facebook, have demonstrated familiarity with the area of law, "that personal element you can show on Facebook could make all the difference in the world," Kennedy said. A potential client, or referrer, may think, for instance: "This one also raises Great Danes like I do. Or, this person went to the same school I did. Or they like the same movies. If they've reached a decision point where it becomes more intuitive or emotional, the personal connection on Facebook could make a difference."
Plus, Kennedy said, in Facebook that same lawyer may build out those interests by joining groups on the site. "Now you're part of this group of people who raise Great Danes. They know I'm the lawyer in the group. When somebody they know has a legal question, they'll think, I'm going to recommend him."
This is not unlike when a lawyer joins certain groups in the real world.
"It's a slow-built thing," Kennedy said. "I don't think you join a country club…and say, 'I'm going to try to sell everyone on hiring me.' You say, 'I'm here for reasons other than marketing. This is a real interest of mine.' And then, over time, it actually becomes a source of referrals."
As with LinkedIn, taking the online relationship offline can be a good networking move for lawyer Facebook users, Kennedy said. Or, he said, when you notice that someone changes jobs, gets an award or has a major life event, communicate with him or her via Facebook and set up a breakfast or lunch. The information you've culled through the social networking tool, like an update on a friend's recent vacation in Hawaii, or interesting observations or links he or she shared, could serve as good fodder for conversation when you meet in person.
"It doesn't just need to stay right within the LinkedIn or Facebook world," Kennedy said. "That's what really makes it interesting, when you start to blur the lines between the Internet and the real world."
If you're still uncertain about blending the personal and the professional, Facebook does offer a way to use the platform in just a professional manner, allowing lawyer users to create separate professional pages for their practice.
"Maybe people will follow your firm's page, but the page doesn't have to be all about the law," Shields said. "Say you're a real estate lawyer. Maybe your update is: Ten tips for moving - what you should ask a moving company before you sign an agreement, a checklist of things you need to do. It's information that the people in your target audience would be interested in getting, but you're not boring the heck out of them with what the latest regulation is.…If you're a good source of information, people are going to come back to you."
"If you're authentic in social media it sometimes leads to surprising things, as opposed to calculating: What sort of image should I show?" Kennedy asked.
Consider the example Kennedy relayed about a tweeting experience involving Kevin O'Keefe, the CEO and founder of LexBlog, Inc.
"He's in Seattle and used to tweet about being a Green Bay Packer fan. He was made fun of for that," Kennedy said. "It turned out he got a number of clients who are Green Bay Packer fans." (See sidebar for more about blogging as a business-development tool.)
But social media isn't for everyone. "Use social media because you enjoy what you're talking about," Brown said. "If you are doing it and it feels burdensome to you, or you're bored, that may be a sign that you're trying to push a square peg into a round hole. Maybe social media is not for you."
If it is for you, Brown said, "Be patient. Remember, it's a circuitous route from the effort you put into it to the reward that you expect from it. It takes time, cultivation. It's an organic process."
Be real when you enter the social media realm, Brown said. And be interactive. Interact, for instance, "with that law student who reaches out to you with a direct message from Twitter about their job search," he said.
"This is social media after all. It should be bidirectional," Brown said.
Maria Kantzavelos <firstname.lastname@example.org> is a Chicago-based freelance writer focusing on legal topics.
A Chicago lawyer uses blogging to build his online presence while learning about legal developments.
Blogging, a social media platform that allows lawyers to showcase their knowledge and expertise to the world, including prospective clients and referrals of business, can offer many benefits, both to the attorney who chooses to write a blog and the community at large, Chicago attorney Evan Brown said. His own blog posts on InternetCases.com focus on new court decisions, legislative developments, and news related to the subject of his practice area.
"It is extremely helpful for me to stay abreast of trends and developments in my practice area, because I've developed the discipline of not only reading about those developments, but actually writing about them."
"It probably takes more time at the beginning than it does once you get into the habit of it," Brown said. "But this is something that we as lawyers are supposed to be doing anyway, staying current with the developing trends of our practice area, being visible to the community at large to represent the profession in a positive way."
He considers his long-running blog to be "the hub of the wheel that is my online efforts to develop a personal brand."
The spokes of the wheel, Brown said, include Twitter and LinkedIn, and his many speaking and other writing engagements that have surfaced as a result of his blogging efforts.
Many bloggers, including Brown, can also be found by journalists for interviews as an expert on a particular topic.
"Everything sort of builds on itself [in social media]," St. Louis-based information technology lawyer Dennis Kennedy said. "They become the golf law expert or the horse law expert because that's what they're interested in, and they just keep writing about it."
Blogging could also be viewed as a way for lawyers in transition to position themselves and move into a different practice area where they have a strong interest, but are unsure about how to build that practice.
"You can use social media to create a name for yourself, learn what's out there, and get involved with some of the leading people in the field and, over time, develop a new area," Kennedy said. "That's especially the case for somebody who's about to retire or slow down a practice. If you've got some time, you can kind of create that branding in the area you want to do through social media that will help you with that transition."
The networking that one can do via the blogosphere, where bloggers tend to link to each other fairly liberally, is another of the more tangible possible benefits of the social media mechanism, Brown said.
The same can be true of "microblogging" - i.e., tweeting and following others on Twitter, which Brown has been doing since 2007.
"Twitter is a really superlative way of connecting to others, whether it's other attorneys, members of academia, people who are working in the industry that legal counsel desires to serve, and law students," said Brown, who has even used the platform to do a little bit of mentoring here and there with budding attorneys.
"Over time, I've evolved my twitter use to be a way of sharing relevant content with others," Brown said. "You can't say a whole lot in 140 characters, but you can link to longer articles that go into more depth. And, most importantly, you simply stay in your followers' top-of-mind consciousness by saying anything at all. As long as you're not being annoying or too self-promotional, you're doing yourself a favor. You're reminding them that you still exist, and that you are passionate about the subject matter that you are focused on and ready to be of service to those who need help."
- Maria Kantzavelos
· Dennis Kennedy and Allison Shields, LinkedIn in One Hour for Lawyers and Facebook in One Hour for Lawyers. Both books were published in 2012 by the American Bar Association, sponsored by the ABA's Law Practice Management Section.
· Dennis Kennedy and Allison Shields, Ten Tips to Get the Most Out of LinkedIn, ABA GPSolo eReport (April 2012), online at http://www.americanbar.org/publications/gpsolo_ereport/2012/april_2012/ten_tips_linkedin.html
· Dennis Kennedy, Thirteen Facebook Tips for Lawyers in 2013, Law Practice Today (February 2013), online at http://www.americanbar.org/content/newsletter/publications/law_practice_today_home/lpt-archives/february13/thirteen-facebook-tips-for-lawyers-in-2013.html