Three Factors that Make the Case for Lawyers Using Social Media

In a recent article in Law Technology News, there is a discussion about social media usage among law firm associates. As is usually the case when technology moves forward, there are those who embrace it and those who do not.

No surprise here that lawyers have been more reticent as a group to embrace the use of the latest technology than others. But times seem to be a-changing, and by 2014, investing in social media will no longer be a luxury – it will be a necessity, according to a recent Forbes article.

Glen Gilmore, a New-Jersey-based solo practitioner and social media expert (ranked number 15 on Forbes’ list of social media influencers), found it surprising that only one-third of mid-level associates are “leveraging social media [because] the failure [of] law firms to ‘get’ social… [it] is a terrible disservice to their clients, most of whom are using social media for personal and business purposes.”

What are the factors causing lawyers to participate in social media networks? My list would include: more personal usage, seeing other lawyers surpass them in knowledge and use of social media, client demand and the ability to bill their time, and the ease of research and networkability. I’ve elaborated on these points here:

  • More personal usage: I suggest that the personal usage of social media is one of the greatest drivers of whether a lawyer uses social media in a professional environment. In much the same way as some lawyers who refuse to use computers and prefer to handwrite or dictate their communications, the ones who do not use social media in their personal lives tend not to use it in their professional lives. The inverse is also true. Lawyers should start using it on a personal level, and as they build their network it will be less intimidating to use it on a professional level.
     
  • Competition and client demand: This is also a factor because you don’t want to be seen as uninformed or behind the times by your peers or clients. More clients are now using social media and expect their lawyers to be savvy with its usage. Of course, having the ability to show value and bill for the activity is also a driver. If you can show yourself to be more efficient, quicker to do the research, and more responsive to your clients, then you will find that social media might be a great use of your time. LinkedIn and Twitter are especially useful networks in this situation.
     
  • Ease of research and ‘networkability’: Finding articles of interest, doing research, connecting with other professionals or thought leaders: you no longer have to wait for good information or spend hours searching for usable content. Individuals can now publish research, commentary, and news or updates seconds after it is written. Some of the most experienced lawyers and top experts in the legal services industry are providing valuable information every day – all day – for free through social media. New client relationships are being formed and thought leaders are emerging, and it’s all at our fingertips. Even if you don’t “follow” a particular person, there is someone you do follow who will re-link, re-tweet or otherwise make you aware of the good content. As you build relationships with people online, you will begin to see who is providing timely and valuable content and which information is worth reading.

What is deterring you from joining in the conversation? When used correctly, social media will sharpen your networking skills, heighten your awareness of emerging trends, and help develop you or your firm as a prominent thought leader in the legal industry.

Things are happening online, and the speed of the internet is picking up. Better get on board.
 

Legal Expenditures, Value and the Three-Legged Stool Approach

Expenditures are always a spotlighted area, but especially so in this economic climate. When looking at the amount of money that some clients pay to have legal services performed, I often wonder: What do they get in return?

Companies pay millions of dollars annually for litigation services. Historically, a good result was the best a client could hope for. However, if an entity has to pay for litigation, a cost of doing business, then why not get something more than a result … why not start building processes so that they next time litigation presents itself the company can build upon what was done in the prior matter to cut costs moving forward? Processes are created, responses are stored, material is archived, knowledge is retained, the decision-making process is enhanced (and more reliable) … these are company assets that can be modified and improved moving forward without reinventing the wheel every time. Short term, heads of litigation are in a position to forecast or budget future litigation. Long term, the money spent on litigation actually creates assets that can consistently benefit the company. This is the mindset in our Litigation Support Division: What is truly in the best interest of the company? Is it a big matter or a small one? Because when we are all looking for value -- and what are we getting in return for the money paid – can we really afford simply to pay a significant amount of money and not create something that can save us money in the future?

A few weeks ago I met with a client, an attorney who is former GC of public company, who is now in charge of operations for several divisions, including legal. During the discussion we were talking about the need that every company has to continue to make budgetary cuts. This client has worked with Counsel On Call for several years and discussed how, based on his experience, this is where he sees the future of the in-house legal department: In-house attorneys, outside counsel and outsourced attorneys making up the legal team (the “three-legged stool approach” referenced by another client a few months ago). Some in-house leaders have seen the value of this approach for several years, but it is certainly becoming more mainstream in today’s business world.

Yet, when one says outsourced I still believe there is a caveat … are you building relationships with the outsourced attorneys? Are they part of your team? Counsel On Call attorneys choose to work with our company, this is the way they choose to practice law. They were with us before the economic downturn and will be with us when it passes. Thus, we have experienced and well-credentialed attorneys who work with the same client, in-house legal departments or law firms, for years. The cost savings are staggering and the value received is real – someone who knows you, your business, your issues, and possesses the skill to get the job done correctly, and who is available to work whenever you need. This value and flexibility makes them integral to the team’s success. The word “outsourced” doesn’t necessarily capture that sentiment – it’s almost a divisive word. But that spoke of the wheel is equally important when building a cohesive legal team with well-defined roles.

All of this being said, one of the most common questions I get is, “So, how does it work?” Many people simply don’t know where to begin, which is easy to understand. Labor is often the No. 1 expense for our clients, so it’s good to start by assigning value to that enormous expenditure:

  • What are you getting in exchange for the money paid?
  • What are your in-house attorneys doing? Is that a good use of their time based on the total amount being paid?
  • Could you have someone else do some of the lower-level work and free up your in-house attorneys to do more complex matters?
  • What are you paying outside counsel to do? Are you getting real value for the money paid?

To the last questions regarding outside counsel, often the answer is “yes,” but more often is it “sometimes.” The implication is that things can be done better, or more efficiently, or more cost-effectively. So once this bridge is crossed, it becomes a matter of shaping a new, collaborative approach between in-house counsel, outside counsel and Counsel On Call attorneys working together in the best interest of the client.

Assuming times stay tough for a while longer, in-house counsel aren’t simply going to be able to continue sending things to their traditional outside law firm for reasons like, “that is what we have always done” or “we just do not have the internal resources to get it done.” The stakes are too high and there are proven, high-quality and cost-effective ways to accomplish the same tasks. Most involve collaboration, and there are numerous “pain-free” ways to implement this approach. Like the client I was meeting with the other day, I too believe this is the future model for in-house legal departments (and, quite honestly, law firms ... but that’s a topic for another day).