Are employment law attorneys giving misinformation on social media to corporate leaders?

HR consultant and new media strategist Jessica Miller-Merrell, calls out employment lawyers this morning in her post at Social Media ExplorerEmployment Law Attorneys & Death by Social Media.

Employment law attorneys who specialize in advising and protecting companies by mitigating risk are misinforming curious corporate leaders about the damages and the negative effect social media can have on organizations.  These legal eagles are advising their clients on the risks of social media without fully understanding how the platforms can be leveraged to protect the organizations they can potential serve.

It’s not the first time per Miller-Merrell.

Flash back to 2007, when attorneys advise that all social media sites be blocked by corporate servers, completely ignoring a much bigger issue.

Not surprising in that it’s not that long ago that 45% of law firms were blocking the use of social media by their employees all together. The use of mobile by lawyers and other law firm professionals has been the easy way around that, but nonetheless many law firms are proudly ‘social media suspect.’

What got Miller-Merrell’s blood boiling was the counsel lawyers were giving HR professionals at last month’s Annual Society for Human Resource Management Conference.

I sat and listened in frustration, anger, and dismay as attorney after attorney advised human resource leaders to continue to avoid social media because of its perceived risk. This perceived risk by attorneys is based on their lack of adoption or understanding of how social media can be used to the organization’s advantage and technologies that can be leveraged.

Blatant ignorance by the majority of attorneys is more than disappointing.  In one session, I listened to an attorney advice HR pros to discourage corporate leaders from “friending” their employees on Facebook. The attorney opened her session by announcing to the group that she had just joined Twitter. She failed to understand the tools, particularly Facebook because otherwise, she would known that by creating lists organizational leaders can friend their employees continuing to create a culture of conversation without fear.  By restricting and customizing the level of access employees have to a manager’s personal profile. Clearly she did not.

The lawyers had no idea of how social media was already being used by employers.

Most outside of the industry are surprised to know that the human resources and recruiting technology industries are extremely advanced in their use of social media and mobile technologies.  Companies like Rypple use social media to increase employee appreciation working with organizations like Facebook.  Or companies like find.ly are developing new technologies based on cloud computing and social media preferences to plot an employee’s future career trajectory.  Thus allowing for companies and recruiters to customize and target their message making the employee engagement experience truly one of a kind.

Technologies like these are the sexy side of human resources leveraging the latest and greatest social media and engagement tools to improve efficiency in hiring and engagement within where work or would like to work.

I’m with Miller-Merrell that it’s up to individual employees who truly understand how social media works and how it can be used for networking, relationship building, and collaborating to show some leadership in their companies. To make a case for social media in your company or your law firm.

I don’t want to paint with a broad brush and say that all employment law attorneys are providing ill-advised counsel to corporate leaders. Connecticut’s Daniel Schwartz, who regularly contributes to the LexBlog Network from his Connecticut Employment  Law Blog provides sound social media counsel.

I presented with Seattle’s Mike Reilly at a Lane Powell seminar on social media for corporate leaders in the Northwest a couple years ago. Reilly’s down to earth practical counsel on social media was excellent. I’m looking forward to Reilly’s joining the LexBlog Network in the next couple months.

I’m sure there are many more employment law attorneys beyond Schwartz and Reilly providing good counsel on social media.

But Miller-Merrell raises the same concerns I have. Do we have employment law lawyers providing advise on social media when the lawyers don’t know what social media is nor have an understanding of the power of social media — for good, not harm?

What do you guys think?

Kevin O'Keefe
About the Author

Trial lawyer turned legal tech entrepreneur, I am the founder and CEO of LexBlog, a legal blog community of over 30,000 blog publishers, worldwide. LexBlog’s publishing platform is used on a subscription basis by over 18,000 legal professionals, including the largest law firm in each India, China and the United States.

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