The discussion about the future of legal services, innovation and technology is taking place online. Blogs, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are the leading mediums for this discussion.

Discussion is of course taking place offline via bar association meetings, bar association committees and bar association reports but without the force, circulation and influence that online communication and discussion bring. Such offline discussion is also exclusive in nature in that it prevents the participation of bloggers, social media influencers and the average lawyer.

Bar association leaders at the state and national level are largely absent from this online discussion. Linda Klein (@lindakleinlaw), current president of the ABA, who engages even yahoos like me on Twitter, is an exception. I am sure there are others.

It’s a shame — on a number fronts.

  • Lawyers giving of their time to worthwhile bar association causes aren’t online to evangelize the value of their cause.
  • Bar associations and their causes are widely called into question online. The people most capable of responding are silent. I am not even sure they hear the critique and commentary.
  • Bar associations do a lot of good volunteer work benefiting members of the public. I see it in my RSS feeds as I monitor the terms “bar association,” “pro bono” and “legal services.”  Bar leaders, whether at the local, state or national level should be, personally, all over social media — blogging, Facebook and Twitter — giving shoutouts to those doing the good work.
  • Bar association leaders are not building trust with leading bloggers and social media users. As a result they don’t have relationships with the folks who can share their message and agree with them online.

A couple months ago the ABA Commission on the Future of Legal Services released its report.

I blogged questioning why there were no tech entrepreneurs on the Commission panel. In an interview on Above The Law with Robert Ambrogi, Eddie Hartman, co-founder of LegalZoom, called the report toothless and excluding those actually building the future of legal services delivery at scale.

Conversation on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn ensued. Commission members and leaders from the ABA were absent from the discussion.

Above The Law, where I also published my post, received a letter from the Commission reporter, alleging inaccuracies in my post. Ambrogi received a letter from the chair and vice chair of the Commission, objecting to Eddie Hartman’s comments.

As a courtesy to the Commission and their representatives, Ambrogi and I published, as part of our columns on Above The Law, here and here, the two letters.

Perplexing was that Commission leaders did not blog to engage Hartman and I online. None of the Commission members nor bar leaders, that I can recall, took to Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn, all places where their report was being discussed, to engage members of the legal community.

This is just one example where participation from bar association leaders in the online discussion was needed to advance a bar association cause.

The days of press releases, pictures of bar leaders and stories being published in bar publications and on bar websites are over. Word spreads socially from person to person online. Trust is established through real and authentic engagement. Engaging with influencers (bloggers and leading social media users) is critical in shaping opinion.

I’m not sure it’s acceptable for bar association leaders to say they don’t blog or use Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn to engage lawyers. Leaving social media to communications and marketing professionals employed by the bar feels very lacking.

Lawyers began blogging as a means of conversation. We referenced what each other had to say on their blog. We conversed, we learned, we collaborated and we grew to respect each other. We did and continue to do the same with social media.

Why not have bar associaton leaders blogging? (Perhaps LexBlog could help.) Why not not get bar association leaders actively using social media to engage us and advance their important work?

It seems foolish to go on with the status quo.

  • Ken Shigley

    In 1995, I spoke to a CLE institute in Georgia about “Practical Uses of the Internet in Your Law Practice.” At that point, there wasn’t much. I explained the internet (until not long before that the Arpanet), email, the new phenomenon of web sites, and that about 40 law firms in the US had websites. Most of those were in Silicon Valley and NYC. My laugh line was that I didn’t think anyone would ever pick a lawyer based on a website but I might give it a shot. Everyone thought I had taken leave of my senses. A few months later I launched the first lawyer website in the Southeast, and in 2003 with the help of Lexblog started the first lawyer blog in Georgia. When I first ran for State Bar office in 2008, these were bullet points listed in my campaign material. In 2011-12, I was president of the State Bar of Georgia. By then, most law firms had websites and an increasing number had blogs of some sort.

    The chronic conservatism of many lawyers and bar officials around the country is amusing. When I was admitted to the bar, about the only marketing lawyers could do was to get in the paper as president of a civic club or running for public office. Of course, federal court decisions forced that issue, though I am still among those who find momst mass market advertising via TV, billboards, etc., distasteful and unprofessional. During my career, I’ve seen debates about whether lawyers could use fax machines, email, websites, blogs, etc. I glad to say that Georgia Bar officials have not had heartburn about the use of new media to provide substantive information to the public about the law and legal services.