King & Wood Mallesons partner Natalie Hickey spruiks the usefulness of social media for lawyers.
Having read Steve Mark’s ethical insights into LinkedIn I decided to investigate Steve’s LinkedIn profile. It is a nice effort; a pithy summary of professional background, a friendly recommendation from a colleague and plenty of endorsements. Shortly, Steve will also breathe the rarefied air of those with 500+ connections (many of us still have a way to go).
I cannot then help asking: why the glum face about social media?
Steve paints a picture of lawyer misbehaviour when using social media, which might already have had its day. Yes, we have all read the apocryphal story of a lawyer seeking to engage with a judge on social media. That, like most other such examples, satisfies the description of ‘only in America’.
What is the risk that this might happen in Australia? A swift search of LinkedIn did not yield a plethora of Supreme Court judges waiting to connect. Indeed, none were found. One would expect judges with an online presence to require an ‘Inmail’ before any kind of communication at all.
As lawyers, we are naturally risk averse. It is our skill set, our profession and part of our DNA. The act of sharing ourselves publicly does not come easily. This is particularly the case for those of us with the Gen X chip on our shoulders. Baby Boomers became legal experts in the halcyon days when knowledge remained in-house because ‘clients pay for our advice’. Yet, social media is for you too.
Whether it be Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or LinkedIn, lawyers are using social media as a networking tool like never before. The content of these exchanges is as large as the world itself.
Some people have an unhealthy absorption in football, food, feminism and famous people. Oh yes, that would be me. Others are blogging and sharing views on legal issues, on the legal industry, on Big Law, and on graduate recruitment.
Making friends via social media (people you have not yet met in the offline world) is part of the fun. I share defamation stories on Twitter with @Harry_Venice (reader at the Victorian Bar), as well as crash-dieting tips. Many Twitter aficionados will also be indebted to @MsLods for her weekly legal round ups.
The notion of sharing, communicating and debating, like the essence of life itself, is what social media is all about. As those of us who contribute to social media forums can attest, the feel good factor derives from developing a rich sense of community with like-minded people. It is wonderful sharing views about the implications of a case with lawyers from different walks of life.
Further, the commercial imperatives of legal practice today require us to reach out to each other, and clients, like never before. Client feedback consistently prioritises the importance of “ease of doing business”. Providing the correct answer is the starting point. A friendly and warm approach creates the social glue that leads to repeat work. Interactions on social media are great practice in displaying a rounded sense of self.
As for ethical concerns, of course these should not be understated. However, other than the potential breadth of audience, social media is no different from any other form of communication, whether it be email, writing a journal article, creating a professional profile on one’s website, delivering a client presentation, or writing an opinion piece; the ethical issues are just the same.
Indeed, the greater risk might involve the offline faux pas committed behind closed doors that is then tweeted by an unsupportive observer to the world at large.
So, rather than being “flabbergasted” that professional associations should encourage lawyers to grow their social media profile, let us support each other as we learn the rules of the game, and share our ideas, online.
Some practical tips when using social media
- Respect client alignments when discussing topics
- When discussing events in the news, ask first: could this be a potential client?
- Be positive and supportive when interacting with others
- Put forward the best side of yourself, just as you would in a client meeting
- Make your LinkedIn profile more than a CV by sharing insights and experiences
Natalie Hickey is a partner of King & Wood Mallesons. She is on Twitter as @njhickey.