By Kevin O'Keefe

Your lawyer is online celebrity : What does your law firm do?

rockstar lawyer social mediaNo question that lawyers are using blogging and other social media to build a public and personal brand of their own. What used to require the marketing department at a law firm to do can now be done by an an individual lawyer based on their own work.

Alexandra Samuel (@awsamuel), Director of the Social & Interactive Media Centre at Emily Carr University, has a great piece in the Wall Street Journal this morning on what may be the next headache for some law firms, the co-branded employee.

Co-branded employees may exist largely below the radar now, but that’s changing fast, and employers need to start preparing for the ever-greater challenges they pose for managers, co-workers and companies. Their activities can either complement a company’s own brand image or clash with it. Companies that fail to make room for co-branded employees—or worse yet, embrace them without thinking through the implications—risk alienating or losing their best employees, or confusing or even burning their corporate brand.

Samuel hits on the fact that a lot of what’s coming is generational. Law firms are going to be hiring digital natives.

How do you tell law grads who have been using Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr for blogging, and LinkedIn that they need to tone down their social media activity when it comes networking? How do you tell a 32 year old associate who has established a strong national reputation through blogging on a niche area that they need to tone down their own voice and start promoting the law firm?

Many law firm marketing departments to date have been pretty sensitive about the issue, siding with the law firm’s brand over an individual lawyer’s.

I have even seen at least one major law firm drive a blogging lawyer away from the firm when the firm approached the lawyer about developing a reputation for niche expertise in their own name. When the lawyer challenged the firm that the firm was built around niche experts the firm responded that not so publicly on the net.

Rather than undermining what is going to a be a trend, Samuel suggests that company leaders (law firms included) consider these questions on which I have shard my comments.

  • Can lawyers use social media on the job? Lawyers certainly do business development on the job. It would only make sense to allow social media for networking and reputation enhancement. You may wish to set some limitations to avoid resentment stirring up among the non social media users.
  • Where is credit due? If a professional posts information, stories or insights gleaned in part from his day-to-day-work, chances are his colleagues are indirect contributors. Setting formal guidelines for attribution, using senior lawyers’ blogs as models and encouraging employees to ask their colleagues how to parcel out credit can all help address this challenge.
  • How much should brands align? It doesn’t take much for a comment on social media to be viewed as insensitive by a client, potential client, or fellow lawyer in the firm. Your law firm’s marketing team ought to be able to provide simple branding and social media education.
  • What is a social media presence worth? A lawyer who builds a significant reputation and following online may expect to be compensated more when the relationships and reputation they’ve built generate new work and retain existing clients. Per Samuel, setting transparent guidelines for rewarding employees’ social-media presence and providing alternative advancement and bonus opportunities for social-media-shy employees can accomplish two things: encourage employees to raise their profiles online, if that’s what the company wants, and make it clear that developing a personal brand isn’t the only path to success.The concept of compensating rainmakers is not new for law firms. Law firms will need to grow to compensate online rainmakers. A failure to do so will result in lawyers being courted away, as has been the case with a number of lawyers on the LXBN Network.
  • Who owns that blog? I have been part of many conversations with lawyers and law firms on this issue. In every case I can recall the lawyer or group of lawyers, in the case of a group blog, left with the blog. The firm realized they could not maintain the blog without the lawyer(s). I agree with Samuel that establishing a clear understanding of who owns online content and what kind of revenue can be derived from it can help avoid awkward (and public) conflicts.

Samuel gives the two directions you could go as a law firm.

Depending on your corporate culture and risk tolerance, you may want to embrace the business benefits of co-branded employees by giving them lots of latitude to build their social-media presence. Or you may opt for tight limits on work-related social-media activities, to control your brand and manage risks.

From both a practical and revenue standpoint, law firms are going to need to go with the former. Not only do you want to give your lawyers social media latitude, but you’re going to want to promote their use of social media.

Education and counsel on the proper and effective use of social media, not constraint of social media, is the answer.

Image courtesy of Flickr by jtbrennan.

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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