Social media has become increasingly popular in the practice of law—not simply for client development, but in the actual substance of the practice. Litigators are researching jurors, and transactional attorneys are using social media for research in mergers and acquisitions.  Many attorneys are using social media for continuing education and assisting in reviewing prospective employees.  Social media also can be beneficial in engaging clients, learning about their business and future direction. Clearly, social media has become fundamental element in today’s practice of law.
 
Social media also provides greater opportunities for professional networking, and helps break down geographical barriers. For example setting up a profile on LinkedIn facilitates global access to information about you and your practice. Almost every week, potential clients are accessing my LinkedIn profile or that of my firm, BoltNagi.

In addition to the benefits of social media, it is also critically important for attorneys to understand the potential risks involved. One essential element is the division between personal and professional use of social media, and the ethical obligations of professional conduct in any online environment.

According to our own 2015 ABA Law Practice Division Legal Technology Survey, currently almost two-thirds of law firms maintain a social media presence, and more than 75% of individual lawyers maintain a presence on at least one social network. While only 35% of lawyers noted that they have obtained clients from their social networks and 39% from blogs, from my personal experience, I continue to maintain that those numbers are significantly underreported.

The ABA Survey also showed that LinkedIn is the most popular social media outlet for attorneys, with 99% of large firms (100+ attorneys), 97% of mid-size firms (10-49 attorneys), 94% of small firms (2-9 attorneys), and 93% of sole practitioners having a LinkedIn profile.

Understanding the increasing role of social media in the practice of law, the ABA Law Practice Division has recently established its Social Media, Legal Blogs & Websites Committee, ably chaired by Jennifer Ellis, with Conrad Saam and Gyi Tsakalakis as vice chairs. The committee provides a community for lawyers, legal bloggers, website developers, and practitioners who use various social media, including Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. The group serves as a forum for “best practices” regarding legal blogs and websites including design, operations, search engine optimization, web marketing, hosting and site management, and the utilization of social media to increase clientele, visibility, and branding of law practices.

This year, the committee’s charge is educating our Division membership and the legal community at large as to the appropriate use of social media in client development. The committee also will work on positioning itself as an unbiased authority on social media and technology and its use in client development by providing objective, factual, and current information from well-known and respected experts within and outside the practice.

The committee will offer seminars to educate the legal community on issues surrounding social media and ethics, as well as other aspects of technology concerning the committee’s general mission: increasing engagement with our membership about how legal professionals use these online communication tools.

Although social media is constantly evolving, it is evident that it and its progeny are here to stay—serving attorneys in their active practice. The key is for attorneys to understand the fundamentals of social media as it applies to their practice and to comprehend and appreciate the ethical constraints in using social media. To this end, I recommend membership in the Social Media, Legal Blogs & Websites Committee as an excellent first step in growing your practice through social media.

About the Author

BoltTom Bolt is the founder and managing attorney of BoltNagi PC in St. Thomas, USVI, and is the chair of the ABA Law Practice Division.