It’s been awhile since I last blogged about how lawyers can use LinkedIn. As I just spoke on a UCLA Law School Alumni panel about the significance of social media for the legal profession, I thought it was a good time to summarize what I spoke on for all to hear who could not attend. One thing is for clear: Lawyers need to understand that social media is something they need to embrace sooner rather than later, the sooner the better it will be for them and their clients.
So why are social networking websites so important to the legal profession? Here’s three reasons for starters:
(Note: I am by no means a lawyer nor experienced in the field of law, so please consult with a legal professional for any official interpretations of social media and the law. Thank you.)
1) Your Clients Need You
Every legal corporation who hires employees needs to create a social media policy. Period. The reason being that, since companies have corporate compliance laws as well as non-disclosure agreements to follow, every business is potentially at risk with what their employees talk about in online social channels. What employees talk about in private is one issue, but when they speak in social media it is often in public channels where it could be indexed by search engines as well as archived by 3rd party services, making it potentially virally discoverable.
This is why it makes sense for even companies in highly regulated industries to at least invest in a social media monitoring software package – to check on their employees. It’s about CYA.
If you can’t help your clients navigate this new reality that is the social web, they will be forced to find lawyers who can.
Here is a great explanation in legalese of why every business needs a social media policy, from one of the emerging thought leaders in the field of social media law, Michelle Sherman from the law firm Sheppard Mullin.
2) Social Media is a Natural Extension of E-Discovery
E-Discovery is a law that was created back in 1997 from the growth of the Internet, Internet communication (= emails), as well as other electronically stored data. A good description of e-discovery law comes from this PC World article:
The law requires processes and technologies to be in place to do e-discovery and to stop any automated or regular purging of relevant electronically stored information at the first sign that a company might be a party to a lawsuit, even before the suit is filed.
Since social media conversations are on the Internet by default, my layman’s view is that they should be seen as a natural extension of e-discovery. I even had the chance recently to talk to one of the leading e-discovery companies, Cloud Preservation, who told me that many organizations are already starting to archive their tweets and other social media postings using their service.
My own “A-ha!” moment came when I was presenting in Los Angeles on social strategy back in the winter of 2009 when someone raised their hand in the back of the room to ask a question. It turned out that it was a detective with the Los Angeles Police Department who announced to the crowd that, thanks to Facebook, they were able to solve a homicide case the night before.
Social media is not just about evidence for homicide cases. It’s about evidence to prove things like confusion in the marketplace caused by a competitor’s potential infringement on your trademark. It’s also about defamatory statements made on Twitter by Courtney Love that cost her an out-of-court settlement of more than $400,000. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, we are at still at the very beginning of seeing conversations from the social web emerge as evidence in the court of law, and it’s only a matter of time before social media becomes part of e-discovery by law.
3) You Need Clients
Just like the Internet did back in the ‘90s, social media levels the playing field and allows small businesses to compete with big brands. As a business development tool, social websites can be a boon to your firm to help you land clients not only as an extension of your own referral network, but also through your own website through blogging and becoming a trusted resource to your present and future clients. In doing so, you might just naturally become perceived as a subject matter expert in your field of expertise, which could open up even more professional opportunities for you and your law firm. Obviously, there are potential conflict of interest and other issues that you need to be cognizant of and navigate around when blogging and being active in social media, but it shouldn’t prevent you from being a participant.
Most of the lawyers that I have met are personally not active users of social media. That’s fine. But don’t take the social web too personally – after all, it is now being used as evidence in courts of law. Most importantly, your customers need your legal guidance vis a vis this new social phenomenon that is quickly going mainstream, even if they don’t realize it yet. Start embracing social media for their sake.