Nobody understands compliance better than a lawyer. It’s no wonder then that lawyers often hesitate when it comes to public communications via social media. In my experience, the big concerns are giving legal advice, confidentiality and solicitation.
But these concerns are so easily mitigated that to allow them to stand in the way of your online success is akin to throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
Not giving legal advice
If you’re active on social media, it’s likely that a well-meaning follower may ask for your legal opinion. Because this is such an interesting question, your other followers will pay attention to your response.
Do respond (don’t leave a person who could be your next client hanging), but just because a question is asked doesn’t mean you must give the hoped-for response.
There is nothing wrong with a quick “I can’t give you a legal opinion, but it sounds like you’re going through a hard time, and I’m sorry about that.”
There is also the common sense fallback. For example, a personal injury lawyer might say: “I can’t give legal advice, but personally I’ve always believed that our health comes first. I encourage anyone who’s had an accident to see a doctor.”
Bottom line: Just because someone asks for legal advice, doesn’t mean we have to give it. But we can acknowledge a tough situation without advising on it; it’s called listening. And that’s an appropriate use of social media.
Don’t talk about your clients online, full stop. As a lawyer, you already know this. But many law firms employ juniors or outsource their social media. That’s why it is critically important that you review all content before it goes live.
Here is an example. One of my clients is a successful tech lawyer in Toronto. This firm works with lots of innovative companies that we often read about in the news.
When my team is curating content for the firm’s social feeds, it is not uncommon for us to unknowingly include articles about the firm’s clients.
The world of social media has standards too, albeit unofficial ones, to allow for transparency. It is expected that, if a company touts another company or person with whom it has a business relationship, that relationship is disclosed in the post.
That is why for us, it is simply better not to post about the firm’s clients without the firm’s full permission, and the firm must review all content before it goes live.
Reviewing content equals problem solved.
Online solicitation is tacky, no matter what the industry. The social web is a place for conversations about the weather, hockey and uplifting thoughts. It is a place to build rapport and showcase your expertise and attitude.
It may be a place to carefully prequalify prospects and bring them into a sales funnel, but it is not where a professional services firm should be hard-selling.
The more senior your target demographic, the more you risk turning them off by being overly aggressive or “salesy” online. In lieu of overt (and illegal depending on your jurisdiction) solicitation, what can you do?
If your target market is entrepreneurs, share useful articles about business.
If your target is employees who’ve been unfairly fired, share articles about how people can move on from harassment or workplace bullying.
If your target is couples dealing with infertility, share heartwarming stories about families and their adorable fur babies.
And when people in your target market comment and ask questions, answer them (see above!). Build rapport, then gently move that conversation over to private message, e-mail or to your website (perhaps suggest a relevant blog post that could be helpful?) Your website already speaks to the free consult on every page and makes it easy for them to contact you if they wish. Correct?
True, it is a longer path from surfing the net to your office chair, but successful business development in the legal industry is largely based on the firm’s ability to build trust, and trust takes time.
The next time a follower asks a question online that could potentially lead you down a compliance quagmire, exhale and remember: Less is more, and sometimes it is better — and safer — to simply act human (“I’m sorry that happened to you”) rather than diving into a 500-word legalese response.
Kim McLaughlin is a digital strategist with Lyra Digital Services who specializes in LinkedIn for lawyers. She combines experience from the political arena and professional service firms to help companies win business on the web.
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