Attorney Doug Wood, a member of Reed Smith’s Executive Committee and head of the firm’s Media & Entertainment Industry Group, has a good piece on social media in this month’s Corporate Counsel. As the title, ‘Get With It … or Get Burned, suggests, Wood makes the case that companies have no other choice than to engage in social media.

Wood makes some sound points advising that corporations, including law firms, join the conversation, monitor the conversation, and influence the conversation taking place in social media. His last point to empower a young social media guru and get out of their way is misguided.

Social media present the rare opportunity to appoint someone just a few years out of law school as the point person on the issue. Today’s law school graduates have lived in the social media space throughout college and law school. They understand it and know how to maneuver though it. Then monitor them!

That makes as much sense as having recent law grads drive client development at social functions at industry conferences and client networking events. You’ll be leaving at home the senior partners with years of legal experience who excel at rainmaking because they know how to nurture business relationships. The reason? Recent law grads know how to drink and recover from a hangover better than the older guys.

Ever seen recent law grads at client networking events? They suck at client development. They’re more to apt to sit in the corner among themselves than to mingle with the people they ought to be building business relationships with.

The better law firms have educational and mentorship programs teaching recent law grads the ropes of business development. Those firms are not going to rely on the kids for business development.

It’s no different with social media. Recent law grads may be able to use Facebook with the best of them. They’ve used it for years for social purposes. Most know little of LinkedIn. I can count on two hands the number of good law student blogs. Damn few law students know anything about using Twitter in a professional way. Heck, the vast majority of law students don’t even use Twitter.

And you’re going to turn social media at your law firm over to the kids and monitor them? The same social media that can spread things across the net like wild fire. The same social media that’s proven to be a powerful client development tool in the hands of senior lawyers.

A much sounder approach to social media at law firms is to educate the senior management and rainmaking partners. Bring in someone who has successfully used social media for business development, preferably someone who has practiced law and who has counseled law firms like yours on the subject. Not to teach you tactics such as how to use Twitter, a blog, or LinkedIn, but to educate you on the concepts of social media.

Senior lawyers and management will discover that using social media for business development is all about engaging your target audience, networking, and building relationships. The same concepts that have brought client development success for decades.

They’ll also realize that with social media being all about relationships, you can’t delegate ‘your social media’ to someone else anymore than you could have someone else do your networking at an industry event you’ve been invited to attend.

Once senior management gains a basic understanding of social media, the firm can develop educational programs to teach everyone, young and old, how to use social media for business development.

Sure, bring the young social media gurus into the process as Wood suggests. Make them part of the process of developing social media educational programs. Recent law grads will be able to point out some do’s and don’ts others may miss.

But punting by delegating social media to the kids in the law firm is a failure in leadership.

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