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Changing the legal landscape—embracing social media strategies to engage clients and the public

Image credit: REUTERS/Ina Fassbender

Law firms have embraced social media interaction in various ways and with varied levels of success. Primarily, firms develop a social media presence for three main purposes: developing business, recruiting talent, and promoting expertise.

Ultimately, the latter two are also used for business development, whether engaging new clients or maintaining existing relationships. Increasingly, however, law firms are turning to social networks and new media to differentiate themselves in a changing and digitising legal landscape.

Use of Social Media Platforms

The platforms most law firms use are Twitter and LinkedIn, and the most active law firms are diligent about posting the latest firm news and promoting legal publications, firm whitepapers, or firm personnel moves. These firms engage socially with legal publications, the service entities their lawyers volunteer with, and clients, such as by ‘liking’ and commenting on LinkedIn posts from clients or by tagging or retweeting professional associations and legal publications. Some firm have refined this to an art.

For example, in the US, the law firm Verrill Dana has set up separate Twitter accounts for certain practice areas or client bases, such as their ‘lawyers on tap Twitter’ where they engage and promote their brewery clients. Another Twitter use that personal injury law firms have enlisted is creating automated process to use the information people put online to add business. A firm sets up a person, programme, or bot that searches public Twitter hashtags and public social media posts for key terms, cross-checks those posts’ authors with their existing client databases, then reaches out to those clients who recently posted about a key topic.

Further, promoting firm expertise through published blogs is certainly a mainstay to large law in promoting their expertise, and podcasts are quickly rivalling blogs as a key way for firms to share their expertise as well.

Anecdotally, Facebook and Instagram seemed to be used much less by law firms. However, some firms such as Proskauer, Gibson Dunn, and Latham & Watkins are increasingly using Instagram to promote themselves. For in-demand young lawyers and law students, who are deciding between multiple firm offers, these Instagram posts promote the firm as a desirable place to work; highlighting its facilities; buzzworthy events; pro bono work; and, firm social culture.

Midsize Exemplar: Warshaw Burstein

Five years ago, New York-based midsize law firm Warshaw Burstein had barely any social media presence. Now, thanks to enterprising partners and an openness to new technology, the firm has embraced podcasts, blogging, Twitter and LinkedIn to promote thought leadership in its practice areas. The firm is already seeing positive response, and their multi-topic podcast was the only firm podcast featured last year on Above the Law’s podcast roundup.

More specifically, Warshaw Burstein has used social media to promote its college discipline practice, which has grown thanks to its lawyers being enterprising and internet-savvy. The firm set up a blog where lawyers can post written pieces and highlight recent court decisions, then re-posting those on the firm’s and individual lawyers’ Twitter and LinkedIn pages with hashtags that allow the posts to appear in search results for those terms.

This public display of thought leadership has attracted clients to the firm, but it has also promoted the firm and lawyers’ profiles to the point where, for example, Kimberly Lau, the partner behind the college discipline practice, is routinely tapped for expert analysis in traditional media and by other newsmakers in this practice area. Others in the firm have followed similar roadmaps for their matrimonial, real estate, and corporate practices, and now Warshaw Burstein is outpacing competitor firms by being more visible online.

Social Media Marketing

When it comes to social media marketing, and a social media presence in general, there really is no one-size-fits-all strategy. What works for one firm wouldn’t necessarily work for another—particularly since there are so many factors that can influence the effectiveness of any given strategy, including firm location, practice areas and size.

A firm’s social media strategy also will be strongly dependent on the individual personalities of the lawyers at the firm and the firm’s desired outcome. It is noted, firms that use the ‘authentically and organically’ engagement approach seem to experience the best results such as: more traffic to their site; more social media followers; more social media engagement; and, more clients directly from social media.

In addition, there are numerous social media tools firms can employ, with each having their own specific benefits and uses. The way a firm uses LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook will likely differ given the way users generally engage each social media platform. That said, a basic list of good first steps for law firms to market themselves on social media would include:

  • Share whitepapers and other content on firm blogs and social media. Embrace blogs and podcasts as mediums for your content beyond the firm website itself.
  • Promote thought leadership in shareable posts with links (and hashtags if on Twitter and LinkedIn). Share plenty of content from others but also direct traffic to their own content, such as a firm sharing a post by professional associations giving a firm lawyer an award.
  • Use personalised videos, and openly share the content posted by others. Create animated videos that link back to educational content on the firm’s site that is posted to YouTube.
  • Include firm social media handles on your lawyer recruiting materials and regularly post material that promotes the firm as a high-quality workplace.
  • Focus on the personal side of their practice by using viral images or videos to get messages across. Law firms may highlight a firm social event or service project. Many smaller firms are not afraid to be witty, and that viral nature appealing to pathos allows personable solo practitioners to generate a lot of views and interactions with a humorous post.

These strategies attract viewers and are already commonly used today by lawyers. But for practice areas and sectors such as blockchain, cryptocurrency, startup creation, as well as certain IP issues in the media and entertainment space, these strategies offer creative potential to reach clients who will seek legal services through internet outlets such as social media.

Ultimately, law firms are expected to be smart and novel social media users. Those firms that are embracing social networks and blogs, podcasts, and other new media have a far greater chance to distinguish themselves in today’s marketplace.

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