Practice Tips

Using social media to build your professional reputation

by Dave Bilinsky, Practice Management Advisor

musical note It’s a matter of trust
It’s always been a matter of trust
It’s a matter of trust ...

Music, lyrics and recorded by Billy Joel

If ever there was a Pandora’s Box that cannot be closed, it is the social networking box. Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and many others have literally exploded over the Internet. Facebook alone lists over 400 million active (i.e., returned to the site in the last 30 days) users. While many law firms have restricted access to such sites at the office, a LinkedIn search lists more than 410,000 attorneys on their site. Restricting social media at the office may address productivity issues, but it does nothing to address the fact that your lawyers and staff have complete access to these sites outside of office hours. Furthermore, younger (and some older as well) lawyers and marketing professionals are demanding access to such sites to promote the interests of the firm and the law practices.

woman on laptopBlogs, Twitter, LinkedIn, LegalOnRamp, JDSupra and a host of other sites are being used by lawyers to reach out to new clients, build new practice areas and develop professional relationships. Gartner Research has stated that, “By 2014, social networking services will replace email as the primary vehicle for interpersonal communications for 20 per cent of business users.” (gartner.com/it/page.jsp?id=1293114). As a result, Gartner recommends:

that organizations develop a long-term strategy for provisioning and consuming a rich set of collaboration and social software services, and develop policies governing the use of consumer services for business purposes. Companies should also solicit input from the business community on what collaboration tools would be most helpful.

All of this leads to the point that law firms can no longer afford to simply prohibit access to social media and collaboration services. Rather, it behooves law firms to take a proactive approach and set out reasonable policy guidelines for staff and lawyers to follow at all times when using these services. Along with the Law Society’s Internet / Email Authorized Use Policy, we have now drafted a Social Media Policy for the guidance of lawyers and law firms.

Here are a few highlights of this draft policy:

  • Your identity: Social media blurs the line between personal and professional lives. Furthermore, once posted to the web, information can be traced back and found virtually forever. Since your identity online is a trusted asset that you wish to build, be professional, courteous and respectful at all times. You are responsible for all of your online activity. Remember that referencing the firm’s name or attaching your firm’s email address to any post or communication implies that you are acting on the firm’s behalf. Posting to personal online sites should never be done from the firm’s equipment, should never be attributed to the firm and should never appear to be endorsed by the firm. If you list your work affiliation on a social network site, then you should regard all communications and postings on that network as being professional in nature and govern yourself accordingly.
  • Content: Always follow the Legal Profession Act, Law Society Rules and Professional Conduct Handbook, other laws and regulations when dealing with social media. Never disclose a client’s name or confidential information in a posting unless you have their written permission as this has legal, ethical and professional ramifications, even if it is unintentional. Never disclose any proprietary information. Be courteous at all times: Think twice before sharing a comment, post, picture or video about a client, lawyer or staff member on any sort of social media site or network, and certainly obtain their prior written approval before doing so. Give due credit to all authors and respect copyright on all materials. Correct all errors promptly, apologizing when appropriate. Avoid all personal attacks, hostile communications and online disputes. Follow the firm’s policy guidelines.
  • Be selective: There are many social networking sites out there. Be selective in the sites you visit and avoid those that do not provide you with adequate control over privacy settings, friends and followers and confidential information. 
  • Seek approval: If a blogger or online person posts an inaccurate, accusatory or negative comment about the firm, any staff member or client, do not engage in that conversation without the prior approval of the firm. Clear it with the firm before responding to a journalist.
  • Build your reputation: Build a reputation of trust and transparency among your clients, media, firm members and the public. Use the power of social media to establish yourself as a credible, trusted and transparent legal professional. Guard your reputation and your integrity at all times while on the web.

Given the reach of the Internet and the ease by which information can be found on it, it is a matter of trust that each of us would use these new social networking services properly, ethically and in a manner that reflects positively on you and your firm.