The developing relationship between social media and the legal professionThe developing relationship between social media and the legal profession.

At the beginning of this year the Law Society of Scotland published their findings from research carried out into the use of social media by lawyers.

Unsurprisingly the research found that, as with the majority of the corporate use of social media, that it is the younger generations that are entering the workforce that are influencing the increased use of social media in the workplace.

The research found that LinkedIn was the most widely used source amongst the six hundred solicitors interviewed, followed by Twitter and then Linkedin.

This trend is certainly not consistent across the whole industry though with over a third of those interviewed saying that they do not use any type of social media in their professional lives. This is surely set to change though with a growing number of social media savvy legal professionals entering the employment market, increasing expectations on the use of online networking from their colleagues and from the company that they work for.

International Principles on Social Media Conduct

The growing popularity of online networking tools, particularly Twitter that provides an inviting forum for the stringent exchange of views, has meant that the regulatory bodies have become involved. The International Bar Association (IBA) has recently adopted the International Principles on Social Media Conduct for the Legal Profession. A post on the website for the ICLR (The Incorporated Council of Law Reporting) website explains that the purpose of these principles, that were adopted by the IBA Council on 24 May 2014, is to:

Assist bar associations and attorney regulatory bodies around the world to promote social media conduct within the legal profession that conforms to relevant rules of professional responsibility as well as considerations of civility.

There are 6 principles contained in the document with much more detail available from the guidelines themselves.

  1. Independence
  2. Integrity
  3. Responsibility
  4. Confidentiality
  5. Maintaining public confidence
  6. Policy

Therefore with the use of social media increasing within the legal community, the regulatory bodies providing guidance and with legal professional bodies offering training specifically on the use of social media within their profession how should the legal community embrace the opportunities that online networking provides?

Law Firms Should Embrace Social Media

A post on the commercial law firm website Hamlins LLP looks at how law firms “should embrace, not fear, social media”. This discussion is led by Christopher Hutchings, media litigation partner at Hamlins. One key area that Hutchings looks at is the regulatory or other potential legal issues that firms should be aware of prior to launching a social media campaign.

They focus on a key area that many areas of business are concerned with, that of the fact that any posting of statements on any platform, such as Twitter, and even re-tweeting, amounts to publication. This means that for the legal community a significant risk is that of breaching client confidentiality or that if a post is deemed to be defamatory, then the person involved can be faced with a libel complaint. What should always be remembered therefore is that UK laws and solicitors’ regulations apply in the same way to social media as if the content is published in a newspaper or in advertising material for example.

Areas To Consider

As long as the issue of regulatory concern is understood and taken into account then the opportunities for legal professionals are significant. A post by Marvin Winthrop outlines four areas that a professional firm could consider discussing via social media platforms

  1. Events, seminars or firm occasions you want to talk about
  2. Recent cases, decisions or news relevant to your practice
  3. New staff or Partners you’ve taken into the firm
  4. Key events that impact you, your firm and most important – your clients.

If none of these are suitable for the law firm involved then a fantastic way of looking for ideas to write about on social media platforms is to use Google alerts with keywords focused on your practice areas. In addition it is absolutely key to remain aware of what your competitors and expert bloggers are writing about.

These provide an insight into what the industry is currently discussing plus what clients’ and stakeholders are interested in reading. Watch what is successful, what gains the most discussion and interaction and then learn from all this activity and adapt as appropriate. Social media should evolve and develop according to the appetite from your audience and the interactions and conversations that happen.

Legal Social Media Conclusion

Social media is certainly a subject that can no longer be ignored by law firms across the globe. The influence of younger social media savvy law professionals on the increase of online networking within this industry has been significant. This is only set to continue and with the increased guidance from regulatory bodies and the availability of relevant training its use is only set to increase year after year. Legal professionals should make sure they do not get left behind.