The Value of Social Media in Legal Practice

I have been thinking for some time what Value [yes the upper case is deliberate] law firms are likely to get out off embracing social media, new media, ‘live’ communication or whatever term you feel is most apposite to describe the phenomenon that embraces a number of significant (and not just by numbers) platforms like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn?

[Apologies for this verbose opening but I am still perplexed by the number of firms that are uncomfortable with the use of the words Social Media, as if somehow they will fall into a pit of spitting vipers or fall off the proverbial cliff if they are caught using the expression.]

To analyse the notion of Value, it is important to frame the question in the outbound marketing paradigm or as David Meerman Scott has so eloquently termed: How broadcast is used to:

    Buy attention (paid media like Yellow Pages);

    Beg for attention (PR); and

    Bug for attention (sales).

When it comes to Value in the past, even if the evidence was sometimes apocryphal, firms were much more comfortable about using tried and tested medium to extract value i.e. new instructions. Even now, I would wager that the majority of the marketing budget goes into outbound marketing channels. Let’s face it feels safe. Safe in that no one has come along and offered us something better – perhaps until now!

So let’s be clear, what I am comparing is Old School vs. New School in the context of the ROI per £ spent against the number of enquiries who turn into paying subjects. Or possibly brand awareness; or brand recognition; or even, as in some cases, “if we don’t do that this year there will be a negative result” (in other words fear kicks in and you are compelled to do something for the sake of it).

It would be nice, at this juncture, to puncture the Old School balloon by producing a highly credentialed report that showed how easy it was to get leads or fee paying clients using Social Media and that the £ spent by firms on broadcast was as good as throwing money down the toilet. Sorry, although there are some studies out there – and some I have prayed in aid myself – I don’t think that it is as easy as all that. But then, whatever metrics are put up by the broadcast folk, unless you have a fairly sophisticated monitoring system, you are not going to be able to say with any degree of accuracy the cost per lead and certainly, given the nascent stage of most social media programmes in law firms, how the two compare.

At this stage you might saying “Told you so” but hold on. Ask yourself this simple question:

Q. In the last 3 months either personally or professionally where you have gone to research or buy a product or service?

It may be conjecture but I bet that you went to Google or you tapped up electronically your peer to peer network. Meaning you asked someone if they knew of or were aware of a on-line provider or website where you could check out the seller of a product or service, and then asked for a URL. I know I have or in some cases friends have been good enough to point me in the direction of a person or company whose products or service they thought I would like, even if I was not in the market at the time for such a product or service.

What does this mean in the context of legal services? I could posit that henceforth all professional services would be found and then purchased in the same way but given the late adoption position of Social Media for a lot of your target market, I do not believe that huge traffic is going to be driven this way – not yet anyway.

It may sound contrary to the statement above about purchasing services, but so far as legal services are concerned, I very much suspect that a lot more people will start with their peer-to-peer network meaning those closest to you – your family and friends – and seek a Top Drawer recommendation. And importantly that recommendation will be sought face to face or by telephone. Hopefully that will give rise to a gem of a lawyer who has acted for your family or friends for years.

But, hold on, don’t think that militates against relying on your web site or a Social Media programme to generate new work. The problem is that those strong referral sources are becoming ever more scarce for reasons connected with the need to specialise. In days gone by most lawyers who had a strong and loyal following managed to hold down the classic GP practice. But no longer. No they have been forced for risk reasons to nail their colours to a very vertical mast. This means that the all-rounder who previously would have looked after all your family’s or friends affairs now has to sub out the instruction. Unfortunately, that brings with it a whole host of problems not least the fact that the person who was given the referral name is now beginning to wonder if the new person is going to be up to scratch. At that stage the road could split: you either decide to stay with the firm and take your chances with the newbie or you decide to go elsewhere. It is at this stage, particularly where you have a strong digital network, where a lot more people will start to think of crowd-sourcing, IM or DM.

But what of the Value point?

The greatest Value is still likely to come from Word of Mouth – by having done such a fantastic, brilliant and possibly life-changing job that it is easy for your peer-to-peer network to recommend you (it is normally a person and not the firm) but not everyone will be in a position to make such a recommendation and that will mean you go on-line.

At that stage Social Media combined with your website (and a good splash of SEO) will come into its own. People are fickle and if it comes down to choosing one law firm over another simply based on their website then because of the distinct lack of differentiation, it may be that that Twitter plug in or YouTube video is the only thing that persuades me to pick up the phone or better still fill out your contact sheet (I long for the day where you can have a live chat page …).

Yes, I know this sounds like I am dumbing down the paradigm and that content is uber important (no let me rephrase that: without content you are dead in the water) but for heaven’s sake give yourself a fighting chance even if, as yet, you are not sure what exactly you should be Tweeting about or know if a blog is going to work.

There is also significant Value for individual partners, associates and solicitors in being allowed to have a voice and a social media presence.

Their brand is as important and sometimes more important than the firm’s position in the market. At the very least every person in the firm who has a client facing role and even some of the support staff should be on LinkedIn.


Because it gives you two bites at the cherry on any Google search.

But that doesn’t mean you can get by with some awful, incomplete, ego-centric profile. No, it means that time has to be set aside each day to update and manage each profile. It is so important that a fee-earner code should be produced and the person or people who have spent the most time on it (and still hit their fee earner target for the month) should be heartily rewarded. If nothing else start thinking how you can take your off-line material and use it to complete the LinkedIn profiles. Think about using Slideshare for instance or integrating Twitter.

If you have got to this point you are probably wondering what all the fuss is about it. Let’s face it none of this stuff sounds that remarkable. And to an extent, perhaps a very large extent, you are probably right. But if I were to immediately start talking about creating Buzz, a Social Media programme that was remarkable (in the Purple Cow sense as described by Seth Godin), working out where along the social technographics ladder your cohort of clients were likely to be, anthropological studies about buying habits and any of the works of Brian Solis, Josh Bernoff or Chris Brogan and using some of the myriad of tools that exist to give your campaigns a WOW factor then, without wishing to appear desultory, I doubt very much if most people – certainly those managing partners or senior partners that I would so dearly love to reach – would understand what the hell I was on about. Yes I know this is an awful and crass exaggeration but if you look at the take up of LinkedIn it has been so slow and poorly used you wonder if lawyers and simply going along with the rest of the flock for fear of not wanting to miss out. You only have to look at the discussion groups on LinkedIn or the Question/Answer section to work out that very few people are seeking to use LinkedIn in any other way than having a CV on line.

The trick about Value is to start putting more of your eggs into the Social Media budget, believing that the demographic is and will continue to change in the direction of buying professional services on-line or making contact electronically – possibly with mobiles (and tablets) being the future.

Start with your firm’s website. Don’t compare it to the next firm in the town or even a top 30 firm, no compare it to the sites that you frequently visit to buy goods and see what you might do differently.

Next look at integrating more of your off-line material with some of the Social Media tools. But my plea at this stage is stop producing that ego-centred stuff. You know the stuff that you have sweated over and has been refined and refined but you have never sought to take to the client and say: “What do you think”. Start living their problems and thinking what would be helpful to them. No amount of gobbledygook and a deft touch around the legal language is going to persuade a client that your material is fantastic if it doesn’t solve their problem.

The thing that you constantly have to come back to with Social Media is that it is a window on the world and notwithstanding the obvious jurisdictional and language issues, if you strike the right chord with one client and you put that material on a platform like YouTube there is no reason why that information could not go viral. If you want to see a fantastic example of a video launch of a book which could just as easily be used for a Whitepaper of ebook then check out Tim Ferriss‘ launch video.

For me the Value right now comes with having the guts to have a go. It is measurable? Possibly but not necessarily as easily as it might be but please, please, please don’t just look at Social Media as a cheaper version of your broadcast channels and hijack it in that way and that way alone. That be would so limiting of the exponential power of Social Media to grow your practice. Sure it would be much easier for me to point you to that Top 50 law firm that had produced a report to show how Social Media had increased its revenue and profits by 20% but, at the moment, in the UK, that sort of data doesn’t exist. But when it does you can bet many more firms will start jumping aboard the bandwagon but of course by then the market will have moved into a new paradigm where the leaders, because they are the leaders, now ply their Social Media trade in a completely different way. If that is right then you will never or never properly be able to catch up.

My challenge is to try to inform the debate and challenge the status quo. I truly believe that the Value issue is the biggest game changer for any firm and whilst fees are still likely to be the principal driver, over time firms will need to embrace Social Media to demonstrate greater value than simply fulfilling a process need.

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