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Perils of social media for lawyers : Badgerland style

Wisconsin BadgersThe drumbeat on the perils of social media continues. This time from my home state of Wisconsin. Thomas Watson, Senior Vice President at Wisconsin Lawyers Mutual Insurance Company, writes in Wisconsin Lawyer Magazine “…[Social media’s] use presents many dangers to lawyers trying to operate competent and ethical practices.” How?

…you risk losing control of your message, creating unrealistic client expectations, inadvertently creating an attorney-client relationship, and running afoul of the rules of professional conduct.

Watson threw a few bones out on the benefits of social media in two paragraphs, including that it’s an inexpensive way to market and provides an opportunity to demonstrate to tech-savvy clients that an attorney has competency in their area of expertise and commerce. (I’ve always considered the fastest growing segment of Americans on Facebook, those over 55, as the tech-savvy folks.)

Watson then goes on in 20 paragraphs to scare unknowing lawyers from using social media and to provide lawyers looking to keep the status quo with all the ammo they’ll need to kill a firm initiative focused on using the Internet to build relationships and enhance one’s reputation.

What’s the harm in such unbalanced articles on blogging and other social media?

  • The Internet serves as the great equalizer for lawyers and law firms without huge war chests for advertising, marketing, PR/Communications, and a 5o year reputation. Good lawyers can stand side by side established and larger firms – in fact have an edge on such firms by giving, via the Internet, more than they are asking to receive.
  • Social media and networking can give lawyers a good name. It can improve the reputation of our profession. Social media has done more to establish trust between lawyers and the public than anything else that has come down the pike.
  • Social media can grow the network a lawyer has at their disposal like nothing else. No way a lawyer in Superior, Wisconsin can stay in touch with and build a relationship with a lawyer in Beloit or a professor or law librarian at the University of Wisconsin or Marquette Law School as well offline as they can using LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, or a blog. Social networks like this allow lawyers to improve their practice and do a better job serving clients.
  • Lawyers in Wisconsin know the best way to build a practice is through relationships and a strong word of mouth reputation. The Internet is an accelerator of these timeless concepts of business development. Lawyers ought to be educated that this is what social media is really all about. It’s not some scary and goofy concept left to kids and tech geeks, as many lawyers might believe.

I don’t know whether Watson uses Twitter, Facebook, or a blog to build and nurture relationships or enhance his reputation as a thought leader on malpractice insurance statewide or nationwide. He may not fully appreciate how social media works nor the benefits it brings to the public an lawyers.

I understand that he is just doing his job as a legal malpractice carrier and that he is citing other authorities for much of what he writes. But my gut tells me articles like this on the perils of social media do far more harm than good to lawyers and the public we serve.

What do you think?