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Is the ABA’s leadership ignoring their obligation to engage people through social media?

August 13, 2010

I spent the end of last week at the ABA Annual meeting in San Francisco. Hat tip to Ed Adams, Editor of the ABA Journal, who invited me down to present at a program the Journal put on involving leaders in our profession. But for the invite, I may not have gone.

I enjoyed the ABA Annual a great deal. Being a lawyer of 30 years and having practiced for 20 years, I enjoy sharing war stories and learning from the experiences of other lawyers. Plus, as most of you know, I think lawyers, by and large, are some of the finer people you’d want to meet and hang out with.

It was gratifying to see the role social media is now playing in our profession. No less than 12 sessions were on various aspects of social media – not just for marketing/business development, but for how to use social media for professional growth and how to advise clients on various aspects of social media. Countless lawyers were using Twitter to stay connected to happenings.

At receptions lawyers I had not met before were coming up to me saying they heard about my leadership on the social media front during this session or that. That felt a little strange being a snot nosed kid from rural Wisconsin. All I was doing was what came naturally to me, helping others by sharing what I was learning. Isn’t that what being a lawyer is all about? Service to others.

What struck me though was the lack of engagement by the ABA’s leadership. Who was the president of the ABA this year? Who’s the executive director of the ABA? When I asked the later question during my presentation, only two people knew. One of whom was Ed Adams.

Why had the ABA’s leadership chosen not to engage American lawyers through the fastest growing, and arguably the most effective relationship building tool around, social media?

Sure there are some ABA Twitter handles under the ABA moniker. But who were the people behind them? How could I build a relationship with these folks when I didn’t know their name. Why weren’t these ABA employees, who are probably great people working their tails off to serve others, out engaging people and building relationships online in a real and meaningful way.

Does the ABA not let employees use Twitter in their own name? Do ABA employees feel chilled from really being ‘out there’ in their use of social media? Are ABA employees adrift on social media when they don’t see ABA leadership embracing the use of social media. I don’t know. But the fact that I’m wondering is a problem for the ABA’s leadership.

Social media doesn’t begin with committees and studies. It begins with leaders understanding that social media (Blogging, Twitter, effective use of LinkedIn, Facebook) is nothing more than engaging your audience so as to develop real and meaningful relationships.

The ABA can’t study where social media is going and how to use it while at the same time the ABA is becoming less relevant to every day lawyers across the country. Doing that means using members’ dues to market and advertise the association in an attempt to get more members, while ignoring what ‘s becoming the business development tool of choice for leading non-profits and Fortune 200’s – social media.

I asked on Twitter a couple weeks for the names of ABA leaders who were embracing social media or at least testing its waters as an example to other ABA leaders. I got no response. None of my 8,500 Twitter followers, most of whom are in legal profession, responded with one single name. Amazing.

When Bill Pollak, the CEO of American Lawyer Media, the leading publisher of legal periodicals, witnessed the advent of social media, he did what a leader would do. He tried it out and began to use a blog and Twitter to engage his employees, partners, and other business leaders. My guess is members of his team learned from him that social media is okay, it’s not scary, and that you can build real and meaningful relationships through its use.

Pollak led by example, not by forming committees to study social media. That would have been shirking his responsibility to lead.

Where’s the President of the ABA and Executive Director of the ABA on all this? I don’t know. I’ve never run across their names online among all the news and information shared by leaders in our legal profession. And I consume a lot of legal industry news and information.

I do know their names now. I looked them up. Stephen Zack is the ABA President, Carolyn Lamm is Past President, and William Robinson is President-Elect. Jack Rives is the Executive Director.

If you guys are interested in learning how to use social media to engage your audience and build relationships with your ABA teammates, American lawyers, business leaders, and their influencers (other association leaders, bloggers, reporters, and publishers), just give me a shout.

I’m happy to meet with you. Chicago is a great city – and as I said, I like lawyers.