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Can law firms fight the press without a media presence?

December 16, 2015

In today’s world, it doesn’t matter whether news is created or circulated by traditional media or social media. It could even be argued that news created and spread by social media is more powerful.

Knowing that, you would think major law firms, many over a billion dollars in size, would have an effective social media presence so as to have a voice in news about them. News that may reflect poorly on a firm — sometimes fairly, other times unfairly.

Take the recent case of the Boston Business Journal reporting on dozens of departures at Locke Lord Edwards.

Blooomberg’s Casey Sullivan reports that the firm’s chair, Jerry Clements (@jkclem), knowing the report would encourage more lawyers to leave, sprung into action with a scathing letter to the editor and news release posted to the firm’s website.

To suggest that the departures of those lawyers who left our firm will prevent us from achieving our vision may make for a sensational headline, but it is a very narrow, unsophisticated and uninformed perspective.

Clements told Sullivan that “we knew it was incumbent on us to change the conversation,” and added that it was “not spin control,” but a matter of providing “accurate information” to set the record straight.

The Boston Business Journal’s response, via its Editor Craig Douglas, was to stand by its reporting and refute that it passed judgment on the firm’s merger efforts. No surprise there.

What was the uptake of Clements’ message across social media via blogs, reporters citing blogs and Twitter? Perhaps her position was spread socially, but on a quick search, I saw only more of the negative spin, true or not, that Clements was looking to head off.

Speaking with Sullivan, Nixon Peabody’s CEO and Managing Partner, Andrew Glincher (@AndrewGlincher) nailed the dilemma for firms.

If you’re not careful, even if you have really good business, market perceptions can affect you, just like they affect companies’ stock market evaluations every day. You need to be mindful of that.

But do these law firms have an effective voice in the media which can shape and alter people’s perception of the firm?

Clements, named one of the most influential women lawyers by the National Law Journal does not blog and has only 50 some followers on Twitter. I understand social media is new and challenging to learn, but not even the firm’s lawyers follow Clements on Twitter.

Social media is by definition, social. It’s person to person, with trust being established in people, not so much their organization.

Law firms are better represented on social media by their leaders and lawyers, personally, as opposed to the firm’s brand. That’s why a publication such as the New York Times requires that its reporters and editors create personal identities and build an audience on social media — otherwise their stories do not get circulated and read. And we’d all agree the New York Times has the power of the pen.

What could Clements blog about? Personal and professional successes of lawyers and other professionals of the firm. Examples of firm growth. Citing and sharing stories on innovation in the business of large law. All the while doing so in an authentic and genuine fashion demonstrating her passion for Locke Lord and the law.

What would she share on Twitter? The same type of things plus retweet successes and news from tweets by clients, business associates and the firm’s professionals.

Doing so, Clements would develop a ready group of influencers on social media who trust her. They’d share socially the news she is passionate about like her response here.

Clements would engage a broad and far reaching community who would get to know and trust her. She’d have a following who’d call “Foul” along with her as half truths broke out in the mainstream media. Lawyers would be less apt to leave when reguarly hearing from her via social and seeing positive news about the firm reported by others on social media.

If negative news broke regarding Seyfarth Shaw, I’d expect their chairman, Stephen Poor (@stephen_poor) would take to Twitter and his blog on Medium. I shared earlier this year Poor’s take on social media.

I took to social media… in an effort to engage in candid conversations. I hope others who lead law firms will join the discussion. Do I think Twitter feeds from one – or even many – of us will materially change our industry? Of course not. I do believe that we need to speak frankly and listen intently and the more voices the better. After all, open dialogue can only be good for our clients.

Look at Mitch Zuklie (@MitchZuklie), the chairman of Orrick, who personally gives the firm a real presence on social media. He has 1,200 Twitter followers comprised of the legal media, innovative companies and business leaders in the areas in which Orrick is looking to grow, and Orrick professionals.

If an issue in the news arose regarding Orrick, I’d expect Zuklie would speak directly to his audience. His message via social media would likely be more trusted and effective than had he launched a campaign through intermediaries such as the traditional media.

Great firms with excellent communications and public relations professionals work hard at protecting a firm’s reputation. In years past this was done by influencing “earned media.” It doesn’t work the same any more. Law firms and their leadership would be wise to develop real media presences today — a presence that includes real and authentic voices on social media.