Friday, 31 May 2013

Social media should be used more widely by law firms and lawyers

A few days ago Legal Futures published an interesting piece looking at the growth in online marketing by law firms, something engendered, in the PI sector at least, largely by the ban in referral fees.

Spencers was mentioned as a new entrant, coming in at no. 15 in the search marketing leader board. We're up against any number of far bigger law firms, so I am delighted by this achievement. It’s one that also prompts some thoughts about today’s law firms and social media.

In praise of social media

I don't pretend to fully understand how online marketing is done - my colleagues, especially Martyn Gilbert, who heads is our firm's CIO takes the lions share of credit for this - but I do recognise that law is very different today to the profession I joined some 30 years ago. Back then, 'social media' - if it even existed - was an internal memo suggesting that people meet in a pub on a Friday night. Now, law firms have blogs, Twitter accounts and Facebook pages; being linked in is essential.

Social media has its downsides. Too often, it can be a conduit enabling the publication of dubious content, something which, I am pleased to see, is now being looked at by Facebook. But law firms are well placed to utilise social media properly, even though, as this report from The Guardian reveals, many lawyers remain diffident about it. But lawyers do not need to be versed in media law to adopt a sensible, informative and courteous tone in their use of social media – and if they proceed in this way, they can reap the benefits.

Blogs, for example, are cheap and easy to maintain, and provide a great platform for disseminating the right message about a firm. Needless to say I'm a supporter, having published this blog for a year and a half now. An aspect of blogging that I enjoy - and which can be a great benefit to all lawyers who blog - is that it forces me to keep on my toes, to be up to speed with the latest developments in our sector. I also enjoy the feedback and interaction that comes of blogging. In the PI sector, there is much that needs reform; generating a healthy debate strikes me as the best way of trying to ensure that changes happen.

A Variety of Platforms

Today's technology enables the simultaneous publication of blogs on other social media platforms. Sometimes, it's not easy to say all that one wants to say in 140 Twitter characters, but deciding on a Twitter catchphrase for a blog is relatively straightforward. This, with a hyperlink to the blog, makes for another great way of getting your message out. Similarly, blog content can be published on Facebook and Linked In. Beyond this, we're into the sometimes mysterious world of search engine optimisation (SEO).

There remain things to be careful about. Blogs and social media are an easy way to libel someone. It pays to ask yourself what the ordinary person would make of what you’re writing - would they think the worse of whoever you're writing about? If the answer is 'yes', you may be into the territory of defamation, in which case you’ll need to be sure that what you’re alleging is true or protected by another defence.

Blogger Beware (of the need for diligent upkeep)!

But as I say, specialist media law knowledge is not a pre-requisite of a law firm’s use of social media. By nature, lawyers are conservative, and so it is unlikely that a law firm will be on the end of a claim for libel if it starts a blog. But beware of other things, like breaching client confidentiality or infringing third party copyright. If you want to use images to illustrate your blog, either make sure they're yours to publish, or that you pay an appropriate licence for them, or adhere to the terms of usage on sites such as Flickr.

And finally, bear in mind that a successful blog requires a lot of upkeep. It's no good starting one, but then finding you don’t have time to continue  it. Hence, here I am, writing this, even though I’m technically on holiday. So delighted though I am by Spencers' appearance at no. 15 in the search marketing leader board, and supportive as I am of social media's upsides, there is one cautionary note: blogger beware!