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Social media provides opportunity for lawyers to connect with the 85% who don’t use lawyers.

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Lawyers are not relevant to the vast majority of people with a legal need. This from legal industry analyst, Jordan Furlong (@jordan_law21).

With a few exceptions (principally criminal defence work), lawyers are simply not relevant to 80% to 85% of all individuals and businesses with legal issues. We’re off the table: we’re briefly considered and quickly dismissed. We need to recognize and absorb the fact that a huge amount of legal activity already takes place entirely without our involvement.

Rather than seek the help of a lawyer, people deal with it themselves, do nothing, or get non-legal help from a friend or family member. These folks are both consumers and business people, we’re not talking only those who cannot afford a lawyer.

And this was before the rise of alternative legal solutions such as LegalZoom and Rocket Lawyer.

Lawyers and law firms are marketing themselves across the Internet like crazy. But are they connecting with people? Are they getting people to consider retaining them? Or are lawyers just competing for the shrinking 15% of the pie up for grabs.

I think it’s the latter.

When I took to the Internet as a practicing lawyer in 1996, I began answering people’s questions on AOL. Thousands of people with substantial personal injury, medical malpractice, and employment claims were seeking the counsel of lay people they had never met.

For the most part these folks had no intention of contacting a lawyer. They did not trust lawyers. They didn’t know a lawyer. They had no idea they could see the best lawyers in their town for free and without any obligation.

This despite lawyers spending a small fortune on yellow page and television ads trying to reach these folks.

Eighteen years later, don’t we have the same thing going on? Lawyers are spending millions on Internet marketing but don’t appear to be connecting with the vast majority of people with legal needs.

What’s going on? Lawyers can blog and engage people across social networks the likes of Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

To me, it feels like lawyers aren’t really trying to connect with and engage people in a real and meaningful way. Sure, lawyers have blogs. But most lawyers use blogs not connect with people, but to draw search traffic to a web site. Heck, some lawyers have others “write” their blog.

Lawyers use LinkedIn, but primarily as a profile. Few lawyers use LinkedIn as a vehicle to answer people’s questions and engage people in their community.

Facebook? Though Facebook is the most popular social network for Americans to engage and nurture relationships, the vast majority of lawyers take pride in saying they don’t use Facebook. Those that do say they’d never use it for business reasons. As if engaging people socially always has to be about business.

I know young lawyers who got their practices off the ground via Craigslist and Twitter. That’s going out where the people are.

I can’t imagine anything finer than blogging and social media to mingle with people who will ultimately need legal services. What better way to establish trust than to get out where people are engaging each other.

When I got out and engaged folks on AOL in the late 90’s I got work. Work from people who had not intended to seek the help of a lawyer.

Who am I to know, but it seemed to be all about trust. The more I got out and mingled with people on the Internet, the more people saw me as a good person who was sincere in the desire to help.

The Internet is a the great equalizer for lawyers. Not just enabling us to get work that would otherwise go to those with big marketing budgets, but in the way it puts us, as lawyers, on equal footing with real people.

Real people with personal legal needs and business legal needs. Legal needs that right now are not going to any lawyer.

For lawyers willing to give of themselves and engage with people, social media and blogging appear to provide an excellent opportunity to reach the 85%.

Image courtesy of Flickr by Marvin Kuo