Attorneys Argue Case For Social Media (Or Not)

Some professions seem to live – or die – by their embrace of social media. Many professionals say you simply can’t survive without it. But if anyone is going to argue a case for or against it, it’s an attorney.

LinkedIn

According to the American Bar Association’s 2013 Legal Technology Survey, more than 98 percent of individual lawyers who responded reported they use the professional networking service LinkedIn. That includes Traverse City attorney Lee Hornberger, who’s the manager of the Grand Traverse/Leelanau/Antrim (GTLA) Bar Association’s LinkedIn group. He also manages the email blasts of the Alternative Dispute Resolution section of the State Bar of Michigan, and sees his online activities as methods of communication which enhance his ability to do his job.

James Saffell of Traverse City said the special section of LinkedIn for attorneys enables people to easily find them and find one another.

“It has a professional kind of quality,” he said.

Of course, there is a difference between using a social media platform and simply being on it. Marie Walker, President of the GTLA Bar Association, said she has a profile on LinkedIn but rarely goes there.

“I think some attorneys are uncomfortable (with social media) because of confidentiality,” she said.

Saffell agreed with that assessment. While there are rules in place which prescribe what information is allowed to be shared and what is not, he said most of those rules were put in place when print was the dominant medium, well before social media or the internet came on the scene.

Walker also pointed to the fact there’s a learning curve for new technology.

“I think people are old-fashioned and don’t use what’s out there,” she said. She included herself in that group.

Attorney Douglas Fierberg of Lake Leelanau dismisses LinkedIn altogether.

“I think LinkedIn is irrelevant,” he said. “So someone endorsed my skill – so what? Find me someone whose career has been enhanced by LinkedIn and I’ll show you an exception.”

Larry LaSusa of Traverse City also doubts the effectiveness of LinkedIn. “Does it add any value to LaSusa Law? If so, it’s marginal,” he said.

He sees social media offering little to his practice. Instead, he looks to his contact list. “My direct email and professional databases are far and away more effective tools, by far better return on investment. We’re strictly business to business. The majority of our business comes from referrals.”

Facebook & Other Online Tools

What about that most popular of social media sites, Facebook? Hornberger said age has a lot to do with his use of the site.

“I assume if I was 30 years old, I’d have a Facebook page,” said the 66-year-old attorney. “I’ve decided not to.”

Saffell said he has a professional Facebook page, but he uses his personal Facebook page much more.

“I don’t look to Facebook as a form of marketing,” he said. “I don’t view it in the same way I would newspapers, radio or TV. That may be a mistake.”

Walker said she knows of an attorney who went on his personal Facebook page and shared an experience he had had in court, calling an unnamed judge a “jerk.” Unnamed or not, the judge found out about it and called him out on it.

Others, however, embrace online tools. Fierberg says one reason for him is the national focus of his practice, which includes wrongful death, serious personal injury, sexual assault, school and fraternity misconduct and other complex civil claims. He uses numerous tools to connect him to his Washington, D.C. office, as well as reaching out to the client population.

“Skype, Google – we use multiple URLs that allow people doing specific types of internet searches to access us,” he said. “Our practice is national in scope. Our client population is widespread and very committed to social media.”

With a practice focused in large part on school- and university-age victims, Fierberg said he needs to be where his clients and potential clients are – online.

“My experience is people communicate in many different ways than 25 years ago,” he said.

Jeanne Hannah, who practices family law in Traverse City, finds another aspect of social media invaluable. She blogs regularly on aspects of her specialty. “I’ve been blogging since 2005. I have over 1,000 posts on my blog,” she said.

Hannah said her blogging helps her build and maintain expertise in the eyes of clients, potential clients and fellow attorneys. It also is key when prospective clients search the internet.

“It brings me an incredible amount of business,” she said.

Larger firms may have a staff devoted to its social media efforts

“I maintain a Facebook page, but personal, not professional. I don’t have a Twitter account,” said Chuck Judson of Smith, Haughey, Rice and Roegge’s Traverse City office.

Instead, he relies on the company’s marketing and client relations department to maintain its presence online. Shannon Cunningham, the company’s marketing director, said her department oversees social media for all four of its offices. She sees it as a way to communicate with clients, prospective clients and the general public about legal issues, legislation or other matters.

She also sees it as a marketing tactic.

“It’s a way to reach people in an inexpensive and quick way. We (also) believe it helps on a branding level,” she said.

In the age of social media, whether you embrace it or not, privacy and confidentiality are difficult to fully maintain. In that light, perhaps the best reaction comes from Hornberger. “I never write anything I wouldn’t want my mom to see,” he said.

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