Why law firms fail to hit the proverbial Social Media Ball out of the park.

A blog without comments is like a newsletter printed in digital ink—delete. A Facebook Page without conversation is like a malfunctioning cellular tower—”can you hear me now?” and a Twitter stream occupied by self-congratulatory announcements is like fishing in a bathtub—you’re not going to catch a thing!

A fundamental aspect of social media is missing for most law firms and without it they can’t hit the ball out the park because they’re not even in the ball game—social media is not just a marketing channel, it’s a communication ecosystem.*

In the social media big leagues, everyone is given a turn at bat—they get to say what’s on their mind. But law firms rarely foster (or even allow in some cases) a two-way conversation via their social media properties.

And, maybe they don’t have to.

If they don’t, here is what they risk.

“Until law firms face the same realities that their corporate cousins face, daily, being subjected to the perils of social conversations among customers, they will not, in the true spirit of social media, ever hit it out of any ball park—certainly not in the Big Leagues.”    Me.

Any law firm that has a client with a connection to social media (and if you haven’t looked lately almost every business or brand, large and small, is defending their reputation in real time on social media today) and does not have some skin in the game will risk losing that client to a law firm that does. (That’s what my crystal ball tells me—and it’s been right many, many times.)

Owning a bat does not count.

Wanna play in the Big Leagues? Are you comfortable with dissent or criticism? Are you prepared to turn lemons into lemonade? Do you have a following of loyal fans standing by to cheer you on when the score is Them:10 You: zip?

Just because you have the equipment, i.e., bats, shoes, and gloves—blogs, videos, Facebook and LinkedIn company pages—doesn’t mean you’re in the game. Tools are NOT social media. A bat is just a bat until a slugger picks it up and nails a home run—that is what makes a bat valuable.

Social media requires that a human being shows up, picks up a tool, and makes some magic. It requires understanding how the game is played. It takes imagination, strategy, good coaching, and a bit of luck. You need to practice your hitting, catching and pitching before you get on the field. And oh, by the way, if you don’t have Babe Ruth on your team, you need some good runners who can at least get you on base.

Let’s play ball! But…wait, the rules have changed?

The balance of power between marketer (lawyer/law firm) and consumer (client) has shifted to the consumer. Shareholders, managing partners, CEOs, COOs, CFos, and certainly CMOs need to understand what this means to you, AND more importantly, to your clients. (Are you Following, Friending, Liking, Connecting to them? You should be!)

“The minefield of customer commentary has been a part of the conversation since the dawn of social media, and the various high-profile brand blowups over the years have been well-documented. Considering that so many marketers have learned the hard way that consumers have a voice—and they’re going to use it—one might think that brands would have gotten savvy by now.”  Brand #Fail, AdWeek, Gabriel Beltrone, May 15, 2012.

And one might think that their law firms would get savvy too.

Ultimately should the law firm choose to play ball themselves, they will need to add some corporate lessons to their playbook. And, I recommend that law firms do play ball. It’s always wise to walk-a-mile-in-their-shoes in order to acquire a little empathy, show some team spirit and maybe offer some counsel—you are their trusted counsel, right?

For now, the ACC Value Challenge, a closed forum where corporate counsels submit evaluations of outside legal service providers and provide feedback to their in-house peers, is probably as close as a law firm can get to feeling vulnerable to consumer commentary (because so few are open to it on their social media properties). However, this is not nearly as scary as having the conversation in public.

Social media amplifies voices.

It so rare that we see a law firm inject ‘conversation’ into their social media accounts, preferring to simply post or push corporate messages. (Note: I differentiate law firm vs. individual lawyer here. Many individual lawyers are doing a great job at engaging via social media and finding reward for their efforts.) In fact, many law firms turn off comments. Is this behavior equivalent to the inadvisable “no comment” response to journalists—implying you have something to hide? How good can that be?

Granted, allowing and/or participating in public conversations on the web can be a bit tricky, of that there is no denying. You cannot control the messages others post about you; you can only ‘guide’ them and of course moderate them. BUT, once approved/posted, you cannot delete them; (See the Streisand Effect) (See also Politwoops.com) it will only flame a fire and give your critics more ammunition.

Did you know that corporate brands in the Big Leagues prepare themselves for and also get comfortable with a certain amount of dissent? As their law firm, did you know that, for example, deleting an unwanted comment from a page can cause big time backlash? Big Brands learn how to deal with negative social media issues, (and so you should, too). Over time they develop loyal fans (advocates) and know how to mobilize them quickly (often offering rewards of free stuff) when the team needs some extra support. (How cool would that be if you could “understand” this aspect of your client’s business? I can help you! Unabashed self promotion: Check out my new service offering.)

Who’s on First?

Control may be a legitimate need for a law firm, but it is not a need that can satisfy at face value when playing in the social media ball game. Without conversation dare we even call what law firms are doing in the social media arena today, social media?

Do we care? Do we need to have skin in the game? A pile of bats (blogs/videos/articles/profiles) is just that, a pile of bats until some one picks them up and uses them with professional skill and power. The blog itself is not going to score a home run, but the lawyer who is savvy, provocative, skillful, AND, includes his readers in the conversation will almost certainly be able to eventually hit the ball out of the park.

A blog without comments is like a newsletter printed in digital ink—delete. A Facebook Page without conversation is like a malfunctioning cellular tower—”can you hear me now,” and a Twitter stream occupied by self-congratulatory announcements is like fishing in a bathtub—you’re not going to catch a thing!

A lawyer who doesn’t understand what their client is “feeling” (yes, FEELING) in the social media mix is like a surly waitress in a airport restaurant—aloof, uncaring, detached, working for their tips.


* Shout out to David Armano, evp of global innovation and integration at Edelman’s digital practice for the phrase “communications ecosystem” which has become my new mantra as it fits so well.

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    1. You are welcome! Shout out to Nat Slavin of Wicker Park Group, an agency that conducts objective client interviews on behalf of law firms, for inspiring me to think like a client. I say, get ahead of the train before it runs you over.

  1. Jayne, Awesome post you hit the nail right on the head! Lawyers tend to have a myopic view of everything maybe due to there training. They can see the tree but over look the forest.

    Keep the information coming and thanks for sharing!

    1. Truly. I don’t think that anyone has ever gotten ahead in business by being near sighted. Believe me when I say, this blog has been rewarding for me if only that I get to think out loud. The time is coming when social media awareness will not be an option for law firms and lawyers, whether or not they have a related practice in privacy, employment or IP, it will be mandatory. Knowing your clients’ businesses is a no-brainer way to differentiate from the crowd.

  2. Pingback: Owning a bat does not count : Law firms and social media : Real Lawyers Have Blogs
  3. says: Nancy Slome

    Bravo, Jayne!

    A home run! (Pun intended.)

    I hope every in-house law firm marketer saves this post for future reference — or, passes along your words of wisdom accordingly…

  4. Pingback: Owning a bat does not count : Law firms and social media
  5. says: Mike O'Horo

    Jayne, I think law firms’ lack of engagement with social media is merely a symptom of a larger malaise: complacency. Since the economic crash of 2008, we’ve all assumed that law firms would experience a wake-up call and recognize that the game had changed, that buyer’s market had permanently replaced the seller’s market within which most of their attitudes and beliefs had been forged.

    I don’t see it. BigLaw is still applying Band-Aids to a compound fracture. They reduced head count. They slashed operating costs. Then, they reduced earnings for everyone except their putative stars (many of whom would have starved by now without their income guarantees).

    They act as if they’re not concerned about out-of-category (non-law firm) competition. Their response to outsourcing has affirmed Gandhi’s description of the establishment’s sequential responses to new ideas [1) Ignore it. 2) Ridicule it. 3) Attack it. 4) Lose to it.] I’d say they’re somewhere between 1 and 2, clinging to the belief that their rarified knowledge and skill is so far above this upstart game that it’s immune to the threat. The threat may be real in the abstract, but it’s really only a danger to lesser firms/lawyers, certainly not to somebody like them.

    They’d be well served to review the history of Chinese manufacturing and out-sourcing. At first, just as had previously occurred with Japan, i.e., where “Made in Japan” evoked smug scorn and assumed low-quality products, American product companies outsourced component manufacturing only, exploiting cost advantages. The Chinese, like the Japanese before them, recognized that remaining an OEM component manufacturer was a race to the (price) bottom. They saw the value of brands and the pricing power they convey. They studied that value chain and began moving up it. Brands like Lenovo (formerly OEM for the IBM ThinkPad), LG, Haier, and many others, steadily moved up the value chain to where they now have trusted consumer brands.

    Likewise, the outsourcing firms, who law firms initially regarded as marginal suppliers of low-end grunt work done by the greenest of their associates. That may have been true at one time, but no longer. Recent research shows that the outsourcing firms are moving up the value chain as their manufacturing counterparts did. Clients, directed by their cost-conscious management, seem finally, if belatedly, to have escaped from the law firm mystique and are entrusting increasingly significant work to outsource firms and other categories of lower-cost, greater efficiency suppliers.

    IMO, law firms are behaving similarly regarding the new realities of competition to attract and keep business. Whether it’s with social media, training, operations or any other business function, the level of apparent denial is glaring and puzzling.

    1. Mike, thanks for the thoughtful response. Sorry it took so long to approve it as it got caught in my spam filter… The law firm mystique is dead, agreed. They pile on the bandwagon of the latest hype–in lip service, not reality. Partnering with their clients, understanding their business, listening to clients, etc. Whatever the soup of the day. I love your Gandhi quote: …responses to new ideas [1) Ignore it. 2) Ridicule it. 3) Attack it. 4) Lose to it.

      Complacency is fueled by a lack of imagination and by a lack of knowing how to lead. Leaders empower others in the organization to think differently and challenge them to implement those ideas. Law firms are too risk averse to empower anyone. They typically know what is right and wrong for them. But, if more law firms had great leaders who could empower the thinking of the group I think we’d see the industry evolve. Nancy Myrland had a great post, recently, and worth a read. “Let me in coach, I’m ready to play.”

  6. You write: “A blog without comments is like a newsletter printed in digital ink—delete.”

    I am not sure about that – 95% of the Lexblog websites have 0 comments, yet provide engaging reading – at least to me!

    A website that is both read by many and uncommented on does pose a marketing problem – how do you contact those who have read, are interested but don’t comment?

    1. Thanks for the “comment” about comments, Michael :-). I would also add that newsletters, especially those sent by email, rank well in the list of digital tools that have ROI, so I’m not dismissing them. My real point here, which not said expressly but will be now, is that I believe you should call a duck a duck, not a goose. Law firms are using the blog platform to publish their newsletters. That’s great. Technology affords efficiency. Blogging removes the middleman (the marketers who had to gather articles, create layouts, send through numerous channels until the news was stale and still gets printed) and adds immediacy as needed. BUT, as a social “medium” if there is no conversation it is not social–it is purely information and that’s okay. Just don’t get them confused. OR, you can get them confused and use the terms interchangeably but I propose, and I think you say it well–a website read by many sans comments does not give a chance to know who’s reading nor be able to contact them! I think when firms realize this, and, how easy it is to do…they may find advantage and differentiation.

  7. Jayne, you said: ” I think when firms realize this, and, how easy it is to do…they may find advantage and differentiation.”

    I am very interested in how you think firms should monitor who is visiting their website and what they should do with that knowledge. I played around with Loopfuse for a while, but it slowed the site to a crawl.

    1. I’m not familiar with loopfuse. In my experience there are only two, maybe three, ways you can get social data; i.e. data that allows you to connect with visitors, via comments–when they are required to include a name and email address (unpublished publicly but visible to the blog owner) or via a call to action, such as a newsletter sign up, free download or even RSS emails (I use Feedburner to get the names and emails of all who subscribe for RSS via email) that includes a form. I don’t recommend collecting too much data in exchange for something free, but an email address, name and maybe company website is essential.

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