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Social Media Policies for Law Firms

May 11, 2010

Social media for the legal profession

This is part 2 of the blog post ‘Would the Zappos Social Media Policy be Right for you?’ which I began yesterday.  As mentioned there I want to briefly touch on some of the issues law firms may want to bear in mind when devising their social media policies.

A wide variation of approaches is possible when it comes to social media.  Some organisations, such as the British Library, do not allow their staff to have their own individual blogs, while as we saw yesterday Zappos is at the other extreme in seemingly placing few curbs on their staff.  So when I noticed the number of lawyers tweeting in their individual capacity and linking to their own personal blogs on Twitter I began to wonder whether this was a result of advanced thinking by law firms or more a sign of neglect to adopt any specific social media policy.

As someone who runs a law firm, my personal preference is to encourage staff to be social.  However, I feel it is better that they put their blogging energies into promoting the firm’s blog rather than maintaining their own individual blogs.  This is in line with Kevin O’Keefe’s Ten Questions to Consider when considering your firm’s blogging policy.

The benefits to a firm’s brand of having its lawyers tweeting as representatives of the firm rather than as individual solicitors could be significant.

The importance for firms of having a brand – being more than a group of solicitors

If a law firm takes charge by positively formulating a social media policy I suspect many would opt to raise the profile of the firm to gain more brand exposure from its solicitors’ social engagement.

Therefore, firms might consider setting up firm blogs for individual practice areas and encouraging its lawyer staff bloggers to help create a blog that stands out from the crowd.  The firm would need to incentivize its lawyers to blog in the same dedicated way they would do if they maintained their own individual blogs.  Here the way in which a law firm rewards its lawyers for work they introduce to the firm, could get in the way of achieving a corporate rather than an individualistic outlook, so careful attention to these matters goes alongside devising a social media policy.

If the appropriate remuneration schemes were set up to encourage team effort, wouldn’t that lead to a better way to benefit from the social media engagement of individual solicitors?  The individual solicitors would still be recognized for their contributions, but the firm would stand to benefit from brand promotion in the process.  Social media, is after all, just another way to network with others.  You would hand out your business card if you were networking offline, so why not do the same when networking online?  This is a useful article for guidelines on reducing the risks

Legal Services Act

With the Legal Services Act changes just a year away, the question arises whether law firms will be able to attract investor interest.   The answer partly depends on whether they are perceived to be scalable businesses.  The problem for law firms and people based consultancy businesses generally is how to become more than just a grouping of experts organized into individual departments.  The fact that the firm has some star solicitors benefits the firm, but it should have a sufficiently attractive brand as a firm to be able to draw other star lawyers to want to work for it.

To add to the difficulty that law firms have of attracting investors, is that, according to anecdotal evidence, many of them reportedly rely on a single client for more than 25% of their income.  This reduces the perception of the firm as a business because it is too reliant on the continuing goodwill of a single client.

If the head of a department leaves a law firm and takes a sizeable number of the team, then what remains of the particular area of expertise at the old firm?  Is it more at risk of losing key clients?

The law firm as a brand

So a law firm’s reputation needs to be less reliant on its ‘star’ experts, and social media is one way firms could better promote themselves.  Setting up a firm blog(s) and branding the firm more is the opportunity that social media presents.

What about ownership of social media contacts?

As to whether the list of connections and followers an individual solicitor builds belongs to the firm or to the individual solicitor, in my view it is not important for the firm to try to own those connections.  For background issues on this topic see Law Donut discussion

It is so easy for anyone to copy your Twitter database by following your followers using software that automatically follows competitors’ followers that even if you divested the individual solicitor of their Twitter account when they left the firm, their employers could have already copied across most of those contacts, or already have them in their own list of followers or contacts anyway.  Social media has the effect of making the world shrink into the equivalent of a small village as far as contacts are concerned.  Everybody seems to know everybody else.  How an individual cultivates those contacts, and the quality of the relationship is what makes the difference.

In the new world order that social media is creating it will be futile for an employer to want to try to maintain ownership of the list of contacts by specifying that the account may only be used for business purposes.  The very nature of social media involves a blurring of the boundaries between the personal and the professional, and the law is going to have to find more innovative ways to protect employers against the activities of former employees than by basing the decision on whether the employee was only allowed to use the account for business purposes.  Artificial ways of describing social media lists so as to maintain that they are confidential, is soon going to be an inadequate approach.  Also it could do a brand reputational harm to become known as an employer that divests its staff of all their Linked in, and Twitter contacts when they leave the firm, than if it just accepted that it is a necessary feature of social media that employees take their social media contacts with them when they move.

Further reading

Connections staff make while in your employ will be too difficult to detach from them as individuals.  As Hubspot argues in its excellent book Inbound Marketing, in future businesses will be engaging staff by assessing their competence as Digital Citizens and the connections they have formed.

Worth looking at for anyone wanting to delve more into the branding questions on culture, core values, customer experience, passion, and purpose – and financial goals is to look at the movement that Zappos has now launched –  Also there are a number of law firm risk resources here.


Our own current policy at Azrights is to encourage staff to be social.  However, as we are a small team, trying to make massive progress on a number of fronts with various projects, we are only managing to maintain a semblance of a presence on FacebookLinked InYou Tube and Twitter. If we had more time for social media, then we would know better what problems can arise.  Certainly I am mindful of the dangers – see for example a recent Times Online report.  In the meantime, staff are encouraged to let me see anything that may be controversial before it is posted.

I would appreciate comments on this topic particularly by lawyers, but if anyone wants to contact me personally then please email me.