I couldn’t help but feel in reading Tresa Baldas’ National Law Journal article on employers limiting access to social media that employers were actually bragging about cutting off access to Facebook, Twitter, and blogs.

Back-to-back studies, the most recent issued Tuesday, show a big chunk of corporate America is banning communication wonders like Twitter and Facebook from the workplace.

According to the latest survey of more than 1,400 U.S. companies, more than half (54 percent) said they prohibit employees from visiting sites such as Twitter, Facebook and MySpace while on the clock. The survey, by Robert Half Technology, a provider of information technology staffing services, was based on telephone interviews with U.S. companies of 100 or more employees.

Another recent survey delivered even graver news for the social media world. According to an August survey by ScanSafe, a Web security provider, 76 percent of companies are now choosing to block employees’ use of social networking — up 20 percent from February — which is now a more popular category of sites to block than those involving shopping, weapons, sports or alcohol.

Law firms are leading the way in the blocking craze. Per Baldas:

Indianapolis-based Barnes & Thornburg has blocked all access to Facebook. Twitter is still available, however. Gunster Yoakley & Stewart of West Palm Beach, Fla., blocks Facebook and Twitter for all its support staff, including secretaries and legal assistants, but lets lawyers use the social media tools.

Even crazier are the findings of an informal survey of 231 law firms conducted by Steve Matthews and Doug Cornelius and published in the ABA’s Law Practice Magazine which found 45% of the law firms blocking social media. Of those law firms who blocked social media, what mediums did they block?

  • Facebook 85%
  • MySpace 77%
  • Twitter 26%
  • LinkedIn 14%
  • YouTube 55%
  • Blogs 22%

The main reported reasons for blocking:

  • Loss of productivity
  • Viruses
  • Confidentiality
  • Bandwidth consumption

What’s happening screams ignorance and lack of trust. Neither of which are high on the list of traits for law firms heading anywhere.

Maybe things have changed since I started practicing law almost 30 years ago. Back then law firms got their best work by word of mouth. Both lawyers and non lawyer personnel were expected to represent the law firm well in all they did (some things we were more proud of than others). We knew the more our employees came in touch with other people, the greater the opportunity people got to know them, and when the need for a lawyer arose, the people our employee’s met would think of us. Novel concept? Hardly.

Heck, I can remember being pushed out the door to Rotary and Kiwanis meetings. No small feat when they kicked off at 7:30 AM with grown women and men singing from song books that looked like those Sister Mary Rose passed out in the second grade. But the whole idea was to meet doctors, realtors, bankers, and other local business people.

I vividly remember my senior partner, George, asking me to be more like Gerry. Gerry played golf at the country club and hung out in the grill afterwards. He went to all types of civic events. All the stuff I didn’t like – and frankly felt uncomfortable participating in. But George wanted me to grow my practice.

Now we have one of the most effective mediums – the Internet – for time and cost effective networking and we’re telling lawyers and other legal professionals they can’t use it. Can’t use it because of fears born out of ignorance. That’s nuts.

I don’t know about the leadership in your law firms, but in the law firm’s I led, I valued three things: 1) Personal growth of my employees (to be better people, for their sake and for their families); 2) professional growth of my employees (I wanted my employees to go anywhere they wanted, I wanted them to chase their dreams); and 3) to have fun (we spent more time awake working than we did at home, so we sure as heck better have fun at work).

Professional growth, personal growth, and fun needed to be based on trust. I wasn’t walking around looking over people’s shoulders to make sure they were working. My employees knew the big picture of service to our clients. My employees had important things to do. I placed great faith in them. I didn’t need to breed distrust by having rules dictating personal behavior in the work place.

To find problem and fault in things you don’t understand (many in law firm management have not a clue about social media) and use this ignorance to demoralize employees and hamstring those looking to use the Internet for networking is a step backward.

Leaders in law firms looking to compete in a world that’s changing faster than ever before need to adapt, to learn, and to empower the employees who work with them.