Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Open Letter to Law Firms: Control The Message

Dear Law Firms:

Why don't you want your attorneys engaging in social media like blogs, Twitter, and Facebook?
Is it because you want to "control the message?" Let's take a look at why this is a flawed strategy.

In the old model, partners with the big firms are pillars of their community (or should be). They are members of the country club, park their boats with the local Yacht Club, participate in great programs like Rotary and United Way, and volunteer with the Boy Scouts. Being engaged in the community is a major component of what makes them so successful. They are involved, and when legal work arises, they are called upon because they are known. This is a great model, and it will continue to be a great model.

Was controlling the message a problem in the old model? No, and why not? Because as firms, you hired trustworthy people that weren't going to embarrass you. What would happen if one of your attorneys got arrested? It would looks bad for your firm, and so firms try not to hire people that might get arrested. You see, with the old model your firm still needed to control the message- you simply had confidence in the people you hired. For attorneys to effectively use social media the firms need to TRUST the attorneys. Is that really too much to ask? (Let me finish before you answer that.)

Besides, there are three major problems with the OLD model. First, memberships at country clubs and chairs on non-profit boards can be very expensive to maintain. Young lawyers can't afford those types of expenditures. Second, it takes years- maybe even decades to garner the stellar reputation needed to land business that way. It is well deserved, but it takes time. Third, community engagement is limited in geographic scope. If you are in a struggling market like Buffalo, NY or Pittsburgh, PA as the market share shrinks- so will your business.

As I have said in previous posts, each attorney in the firm is already a brand unto themselves. As they participate in the community- the brand gains in value. If they write an article for the local newspaper- the brand gains in value. So why not encourage your attorneys to engage in social media and provide them with the tools and training to participate thoughtfully? Each time one of your attorneys writes a blog post about a legally relevant topic, the firm gets free advertising. Each time an attorney post a thoughtful comment on a legal blog, more free press for the firm.

I'm not suggesting a social media free-for-all where attorneys suddenly stop billing because they are on Facebook and Twitter all day, but instead more of a focused individual strategy for each attorney. This strategy would likely entail weekly or monthly blog posts, combined with participation in forums such as Facebook and Twitter.

Firms certainly need to control the message, but that will be best accomplished by hiring good lawyers, and trusting them to engage, in whatever venue, in a thoughtful and respectful way.

1 comment:

  1. I think that what you are advocating is pretty inevitable. Still, law firms will be quite slow to embrace social media for a number of quite predictable reasons. First, law firm partnerships are basically big unwieldy committees, and it is hard for such creatures to quickly adopt bold new strategies. Second, the fifty and sixty something partners are often going to be uncomfortable with the attitudes and statements of the twenty and thirty something associates and staff. That is, much of what comes out will inevitably be "undignifified". Still, to circle back to where you started, it does seem inevitable that social media will balkanize the marketing messages of each law firm. This ought to be interesting!