Saturday, October 02, 2010

Social Media and the Legal Profession: Where are We Today?

Toronto green energy and business lawyer Robert J. Wakulat will be speaking next week on the topic of social media and the practice of law at the International Bar Association Annual Conference in Vancouver. He's kindly asked for views from colleagues on the current state of the social media universe and the legal profession.

These were my thoughts:

Which social media tool has been most/least useful to you? Why?
  • From my perspective, it is no longer about which of the social media options is most useful. Our firm has a presence on most of the more popular platforms already, and they all have their places.
  • As I see it, one of the current challenges in social media for lawyers is integration. Once you have a website and blog, are on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, Digg, etc., how do you tie it all together - with the least amount of extra hands-on effort - into a cohesive, seamless and consistent presence that establishes a brand or identity that is both authentic and digestible for readers?
  • There are lots of widgets that that utilize RSS to interconnect these resources, needless to say, but I still see maximizing the cumulative benefit of them all as a challenge. I've tried to use Wise Law Blog as a central hub to do this, but don't think that is the final answer. I will likely continue to work on better ways to accomplish this.
As a lawyer, do you find you give special consideration to how you use various social media tools?
  • Lawyers need to be very conscious of the "voice" we use online. Among other things, we must satisfy our regulators, speak to our intended audiences in their own language, and accomplish our own personal and professional goals, as we define them.
  • I've never had a struggle on this, but over time, I've certainly chosen to avoid a few hot buttons in my writing. Needless to say, online, those who disagree can be quite robust! I've not generally found engaging them to be time well spent.
How has any social media changed aspects of your practice? (Administration, marketing, client communication, other.)
  • I've long contended that the web and social media are the legal profession's great equalizer, allowing smaller firms to cost-effectively reach out to very large audiences, and to thereby compete globally with great success.
  • Done well, a law firm's web presence can become a magnet that attracts clients, interest from the press, CLE speaking opportunities, qualified job applicants, and overall, generates enhanced professional profile.
  • Beyond that, the available information resources at CanLii, government web sites, Canada's many exceptional law blogs, and of course, Google (to name only a few), have brought instant information to our fingertips, making us - and our clients - a whole lot smarter.
  • Having started my own law practice in 1986 (that's a while ago...), I can speak at great length as to the impact of the web and social media on my firm.
  • Bottom line - it's a very different world with new opportunity I couldn't previously have imagined.
Do you see a difference in the way Small Law vs Big Law uses social media?
  • Smaller firms were probably the profession's pioneers in leveraging the web.
  • Big firms are catching up, but they have a long way to go.
  • In spite of the copious money they are now throwing at their online endeavours, the best larger firms can likely hope for is the protection of their own, customary turf. Theirs is a defensive effort to stave off the various, serious challenges that have now emerged.
  • The "Big Law" marketplace has possibly shrunk permanently. Smaller firms may well have a decade ahead of yet-untapped potential.
For some of my earlier thoughts related to social media and the practice of law, see the following papers, written for previous CLE programmes:
- Garry J. Wise, Toronto
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