I love working with lawyers; they are not easy clients to land, but once you’ve earned their trust, they are the best clients on earth.
When Satterlee Stephens Burke & Burke invited down to New York City to speak at the Legal Network International Conference a few weeks back, I was thrilled. The topic du jour? Using social media to build a practice (with a special emphasis on LinkedIn.)
Legal Network International is exactly what the name implies: An international network of lawyers who come together twice a year to learn from each other and learn how to better support one another.
Although the organization consists of lawyers in many practice areas, 90% of the lawyers attending the conference in New York City worked with businesses. Only a few were consumer based practices (personal injury, defense, etc.)
With lawyers from around the world sitting at the table (literally), it was a fantastic opportunity to find out if my assumptions and best practices for lawyers in North America held true for lawyers beyond my own borders. Here’s what I found:
1. Early Adoption = Big Opportunity
Most legal firms either don’t embrace social media or do an inconsistent job of it. From France and Hungary to Mexico and Brazil, this holds true. The good news? It doesn’t take much to surpass your legal competitors.
Let’s focus on LinkedIn: While we had some strong and sophisticated users in the group (hello Sam Coppola from Montreal!), most attendees were passive users at best – completely normal in the industry.
This is for a few reasons: Seasoned business lawyers generally get their clients via existing relationships or referrals that flow from those existing relationships. On the surface, there doesn’t seem to be much a need for a network like LinkedIn when you’re already managing things nicely on the golf course.
But the beauty of LinkedIn is that it doesn’t replace your existing networking (it can, but I’m not recommending that here), it enhances it. And with minimal effort.
A firm that invests in professionally written profiles for all its lawyers has better overall visibility (not to mention the collective impact of each professionally written, on-brand profile to the overall brand.)
A professionally written profile and regular status updates (posting high quality, target-focused content) will dramatically boost each lawyer’s individual profile too. So while the lion share of business development continues to happen over lunch, a well-written update goes a long way to reminding your existing and prospective clients that a) you know your practice area better than anyone b) you’re approachable and c) it’s time they (the client) reached out or responded to your lunch invite.
The best part? Firms that embrace social today are head and shoulders ahead of 90% of their competitors. They will reap the rewards of greater credibility, website traffic and engagement all compared to their competitors. In the legal industry, you can still be the early adopter.
2. Regulation Around Legal Advertising Is A Mishmash Around The World
Some lawyers can advertise. Some can’t. Some cultures find legal advertising distasteful, others don’t. It’s a fine line between compliance and noncompliance, social acceptability or otherwise.
Social media, at it’s very core (and ignoring the advertising side of it), is about communicating to opt-in communities. People come to you. We do not solicit. You see, whether solicitation is legal in your jurisdiction or not, it doesn’t work well on social media so it’s to be avoided at all costs.
Again, for organizations that take an organic approach to their social (focusing on networks like LinkedIn and Twitter), all we need do is post helpful information that your clients will find of interest, and be careful in your responses to questions (for example, a general ‘you may wish to consider consulting a lawyer’ to a comment or question on your blog is always a safer response than ‘well Joe, why don’t you come by my office next week for a free consultation?’)
You’re not giving anything up in the above response. If the person who posted the question is in your area, they are going to contact you because you are the one with whom they now feel they have a relationship. So it works AND it’s conservative/complaint.
3. Boring Lawyer Stereotypes Are Persistent and Wrong
Put your lawyer jokes away, my friends. I speak at all sorts of conferences and never do I have more fun than when I get to spend time in the legal community. Lawyers are smart, direct, curious and well informed about life in general.
So tell me, why do those few lawyers who embrace social post exclusively about politics or changing legislation (but in a legalese, lawyerly way?)
When you communicate on social, you need to post about subjects that your clients will find interesting using their voice and their language. This allows your clients -and those they refer to you- to relate to your content, allowing for an emotional connection. The goal is to have your client think “ah, he understands me.”
I have always noticed that lawyers love to communicate with other lawyers on social media. They write their content and design their social presences to appeal to other lawyers. If you are a lawyer, and your clients are other lawyers, this is an effective tactic.
If your clients are, however, people injured in an accident, well-funded startups, or the upper echelon of large European companies, you need to create your profile and content to appeal to them.
For many lawyers, this means going outside of one’s comfort zone by showing that personality. Speaking about topics that interest your clients (like wheelchair accessible vacations if you do personal injury or cash flow tips if you help tech startups). Those lawyers that have the courage to punch a hole in the unfair lawyer stereotype do very well on social media. I know, I represent them 😉
If you have any questions about how you can build your practice using strategic social media, feel free to reach out. And if you’re a lawyer, let’s set aside a good half-hour because I know you have questions and I’m happy to answer them!