Hartford Business Journal Social Media for law firms I took part in a Q & A feature with the Hartford Business Journal earlier this year regarding social media for lawyers and law firms. I thought you may find my exchange with  John Lahtinen, the Journal’s Special Projects Editor, which he titled ‘Passing the Social Media Bar,’ of interest.

Q: How is new technology changing the way lawyers are working?

A: Lawyers have always gotten their best work through relationships and a strong word of mouth reputation. The Internet has not changed that. Lawyers are networking through the Internet via blogs with complementary use of other social media such as Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

Q: Can you give examples of social media that work to get lawyers new, paying business?

A: Sure, I have a client who landed the nation’s largest airline as a client by virtue of a relationship he built with a consultant to the general counsel of the airline. I have a client, David Donoghue in Chicago who lands sophisticated patent litigation work through relationships he’s built through his blog and is doing seven figures in work from just those Internet relationships this year.

Q: Are social media tools better for deepening relationships with existing clients or finding new clients?

A: Social opens doors to new relationships and nurtures existing relationships. Think of the Net as a relationship accelerator.

Q: What’s more effective marketing: Joining a social network or starting your own?

A: No one is going to start a social network. No question they should have their own blog as that becomes their core identity with other roads from Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook leading to it.

Q: Do lawyers of different ages have a different approach to social media?

A: Not really. Surprisingly, older lawyers understand how to use the Internet more effectively than young lawyers. That’s because they understand the value and the importance of networking to build those relationships and a strong reputation.

Q: How much are lawyers judged by the digital company they keep?

A: Very highly, by business people, consumers, judges, law clerks, reporters, and the community at large.

Q: Are many law firms monitoring what their lawyers are doing with social media, and how their online presence reflects the firm?

A: Sure, law firms often adapt social media policies to complement existing PR and communication policies. The policies guide lawyers as to where the pitfalls may lie (there are not many), but the best law firms trust their lawyers to get out and network. After all, people hire people. Companies do not hire lawyers.

Q: Do any attorney regulation agencies have guidelines for social media?

A: Generally no, though a couple states have established some guidelines. The American Bar Association has said we do not need additional ethical guidelines for social media as it’s like any other form of networking — they’ve said what we need is education so lawyers understand that. We didn’t get new rules for cell phones and the fax machine and email. We don’t need new rules for social media.

Q: What do you tell lawyers who say that social media is a waste of time?

A: That’s their prerogative. It’s their choice if they wish to take more time on business development, something all lawyers need to do, than those lawyers who use the Net for business development. If they don’t want to do business development, I tell them where they can pick up a Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition to fill out.

Q: What advice would you give to a lawyer debating the merits of social media?

A: Be different. Be willing to give of yourself to help others. Those lawyers who are willing to be authentic and share insight and information freely are light years ahead of those lawyers who do not. The world is looking for lawyers who really demonstrate they care about people.

Q: What do you think the future of social media holds for the law profession?

A: We’re just scratching the surface. Social media, because it is founded on trust, networking, relationships, and reputation, is uniquely suited for lawyers.

Q: How can a law firm use social media to enhance its reputation?

A: Where do I start? Share insight and commentary on niche subject blogs. Share others’ news and info on the niche on Twitter and LinkedIn. Engage thought leaders, the press, association leaders, publishers, and conference coordinators by referencing in your blog what they are saying. Connect with them on LinkedIn when they respond.

Q: What are the benefits that arise from a strategic and structured approach to implementation?

A: 1- A growing network; 2- More relationships with your target network; 3- Establishing yourself as a subject matter expert; and 4- Not just new clients, but high quality new clients.