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Is it ethical, or wise, for lawyers to offer prizes as an incentive to connect on social media?

For some lawyers, social media doesn't matter

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This week's Daily Record column is entitled "For some lawyers, social media doesn't matter."

A pdf of the article can be found here and my past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

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For some lawyers, social media doesn't matter

That’s right. I said it. Not every lawyer will benefit from using social media tools.

Those who read my column regularly or who know of the book I co-authored with Carolyn Elefant, Social Media for Lawyers: The Next Frontier, might be surprised by this assertion. You shouldn’t be.

I’ve never said that social media is magic bullet that will solve all your problems. In fact, for years now, I've said just the opposite on many occasions. See, for eg.--here, here, here and here.)

And, it’s never been my position that social media will make you a better lawyer. The only thing that will make you a better lawyer is hard work, experience and developing expertise in your chosen areas of practice.

Likewise, I’ve never claimed that using social media will result in potential clients breaking down your door seeking to hire you.

Instead, I’ve always said that social media is a phenomenon, not a fad, and for that reason, it’s important to understand it and stay abreast of changes in social media. By doing so, you’ll be better equipped to determine whether interacting on social media makes sense for your law firm’s needs.

And, once you’ve learned about social media, you may very well decide that the benefits of using social media are outweighed by the drawbacks. These drawbacks include potential ethical pitfalls and the time you must spend creating your profiles and interacting with other users. For some lawyers, this time could be better spent on other tasks, and social media is a time suck, plain and simple.

If social media isn’t a good fit for your practice, you may find that after investing all that time you may very well find that you’ve gained nothing. Lawyers who find themselves in this situation will be understandably frustrated.

So, you may be wondering which lawyers should be using social media. Unfortunately, there’s no cut and dry, definitive answer to that question. Whether your practice stands to benefit from social media depends on a number of factors, including your goals, how long you’ve been in practice, whether you already have a steady stream of business, how strong your professional network is, your geographic region, your areas of practice and your comfort level with online technologies.

Each and every one of these factors will affect how successful a social media campaign will be. For example, if you’ve been in practice for a decade and have a well-established practice and referral base, then spending time using social media tools might not be worthwhile for you, if your goal is to gain more clients or expand your professional network. You’ve already done a good job at accomplishing these goals using traditional methods and social media wouldn’t be a good time investment for you.

Likewise, if you live in a rural area and focus on criminal defense, you may find that using social media to obtain new clients won’t work well since your potential clients probably aren’t using the Internet to find an attorney, nor is there likely to be a huge population from your geographic location using certain social networks, such as Twitter. However, if one of your goals is to obtain more media mentions and local reporters are on Twitter, it might make sense for you to follow and interact with these individuals on Twitter.

Social media might also be worth your time if you’re just opening your firm, fresh out of law school, or just left a large firm and plan to hang your own shingle. This is especially so if you have your sights set on a niche practice area.  Blogging about your chosen practice niche would allow you to hone your writing skills, showcase your knowledge and keep track of changes in your field. Likewise, interacting on social networks with other lawyers from across the country who handle similar cases would be a great way to expand your professional network and broaden your referral base.

The bottom line is that there are many types of lawyers who stand to benefit from engaging in social media, just as there are many who don’t. It’s not a one-size-fits-all proposition—what works for some attorneys won’t work for others.

Whether using social media is a worthwhile investment for your law firm is something that only you can determine, but don’t write it off simply because you don’t understand it. Do some research, read a few articles, review a few blog posts, and gain a firm grasp of the different platforms and tools. Then, and only then, will you be in a position to make an educated decision about social media. And, for some firms, that decision will be that social media simply isn’t worth their time.

Nicole Black is of counsel to Fiandach & Fiandach in Rochester. She co-authors the ABA book Social Media for Lawyers: the Next Frontier, co-authors Criminal Law in New York, a West-Thomson treatise, and is currently writing a book about cloud computing for lawyers that will be published by the ABA in early 2011. She is the founder of lawtechTalk.com and speaks regularly at conferences regarding the intersection of law and technology. She publishes four legal blogs and can be reached at nblack@nicoleblackesq.com.

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