By Paul J. Unger, Esq.
Online networks can be a fantastic tool for clients to identify expert lawyers in different practice areas. It is used by consumers to find lawyers who can provide expertise in certain areas of law and general counsel who are looking to hire outside counsel with special experience. Lawyers with a high level of specialty can shine if they know how to show their knowledge online through the use Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, blogs and the like. Moreover, clients look to social networks and websites to check references and research about the person they are hiring. For what to do and what not to do, follow these best practices:
1. Create professional and social boundaries.
Think about creating two Facebook accounts (be two-faced): (1) a professional, and (2) family/social. At a minimum, setup security if you have just one Facebook account. Some may disagree with me, but I will defend this position until my grave. I simply have no desire to have a judge or colleague see me sitting next to my Christmas tree in my pajamas or boxer briefs opening up gifts from family or friends. I have no desire for clients to see pictures of the inside of my house. Moreover, while I may love myself silly, I also don't have any desire to bore my friends and family with countless notices about articles and presentations that I prepare and publish for work. While we may all be growing immune to such social media noise, many just aren't interested in it and can be a distraction.
2. Don’t link or become friends with people you don’t know.
You don't want to be associated with a murderer or an idiot, let alone be called his/her "friend." Moreover, you don't want them having access to personal and professional information.
3. Use #hashtags in posts.
Hashtags (#) are used on social media platforms as a means of tagging your post to make it more searchable. It turns the words that directly follow it (no spaces!) into a searchable link. For instance running a search for #fenphen on Twitter would quickly queue you in on recent news having to do with fenfluramine and phentermine cases.
4. Don’t spam people and link just for the benefit of having tons of "friends."
It is annoying to receive junk, especially from people you don’t know. So … don’t be that person.
5. Use keywords in your professional social networking site.
Use short key phrases to describe what you do. For instance, a bankruptcy lawyer may consider "Ohio bankruptcy lawyer" in his/her online profile on Facebook or LinkedIn. This will help people find you in a Google search.
6. Use your profile links.
The more links that you have to your profile, the more traffic you will have. For instance, think about adding your Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter links in your email signature. You probably send out 50-100 emails a day. Why not take advantage of it? Add them to your biography and contact information on your website. Add them to the bar directory.
7. Proof your content.
You do not want potential clients reviewing your online identity and finding spelling errors. These are the people that you want as clients. Make a favorable impression by displaying a professional image.
8. Assume everything you post will appear on CNN Headline News.
For some reason, some people think that because they are alone in an office posting something to their blog that only a select few can or will read it. That simply isn't so. Assume the entire world will read it. Even if your post only reaches "friends," you must assume that it is quite possible that a "friend" will re-post your post or quote you to people outside of your friends, i.e., the rest of the world.
It is only a matter of time, in my humble opinion, that social networking sites will be treated similarly to lawyer advertising. We should as a profession act in such a way to prevent this. However, there will be lawyers who will take advantage of the marketing power behind social networking sites, and perhaps even abuse it. To the extent this happens, social sites will eventually be regulated. So, if in doubt, err on the side of caution and follow the strictest rules to be safe. Don't be "the example" that everyone else reads about in the bar journal.
Paul J. Unger is an attorney and founding member of Affinity Consulting, Inc., formerly Henley March & Unger Consulting, Inc., which specializes in document assembly systems, legal-specific software training, automated forms processing, document imaging systems, client management software, voice recognition software, workflow software and company intranets for law firms and legal departments in the Midwest.