Legal Topics / Social Media

Lawyers, know your limits on social media

Office iPadThe rise of social media is not just for announcing the arrival of a royal baby, it has grown to be a significant business tool. It is important to understand the potential ramifications of misuse and misinformation, however. Lawyers in particular should be careful about not going beyond their (insured) capabilities and expertise when taking up social media tools or advising clients on this rapidly evolving medium. You wouldn’t use Wikipedia in court.

Social media is the great divider of the 21st Century. There are those who exhibit an unadulterated enthusiasm for new technology and ever-changing methods of social interaction and there are those who cannot contemplate living life through a smartphone and doggedly resist any hint of diverting from what’s gone before. Whichever camp you fall into, or if you fit anywhere along the between the two, social media cannot be ignored, even if you ban phones at the dining table. In the legal profession, we might even be negligent to ignore it.

Headlines rage about the latest Twitter troll and TV news is increasingly dominated by YouTube videos recorded first-hand by the viewing public. Schools and workplaces suffer cyber-bullying attacks and petitions – once made up of laboriously collected signatures – are actioned simultaneously around the world at the click of a mouse. With every photo we upload or comment we make, there is an indelible mark of who we are, what we believe and what we do. In the legal world, these markers can make or break cases and careers.

We have all heard horror stories, where friends, colleagues or family members have been hacked, harassed or caught out by a spam message. No wonder we’re increasingly risk averse in an already risk-averse profession. Yet, most of us will have accepted terms of use – for Google, iTunes or YouTube – without ever having read them. When else would you agree a contract without reading it? When would you advise a client to do so?

By understanding more about a few of the growing number of social media platforms, what they offer and the risks and potential rewards they present, lawyers will better placed to advise our clients across any number of practice areas, from employment and commercial to family and private client. Social media is an important element of wide-spread consultation on major infrastructure projects and the cause (and cure) of many defamation claims.

But it’s not just about the law. Social media is fast becoming a successful organisation’s key communication tool, allowing businesses and charities to speak directly to clients, customers and stakeholders. It presents any number of cost-effective and targeted marketing solutions that law firms have been slow to harness. By utilising the specialist knowledge and skills of key lawyers, supplemented by business development and marketing support, firms can make significant contributions to their own profile, showcase their capabilities and raise the profiles of individual fee-earners.

Of course, social media doesn’t suit everyone. Identifying the people who will use it to its full potential and recognising those who wilfully work against it is important. It is also important to recognise our personal and shared boundaries. The temptation to join a debate, share unsolicited (or solicited) advice or pass opinions which should stay unspoken can be overwhelming. For lawyers, the risk of speaking out can have potentially career-limiting effects. It could also impact on a firm’s insurance premiums and cause immeasurable reputational damage.

Social media moves fast and, as a consequence, the best users must move fast too. As news breaks on social media, those who are quick-willed and able to respond will reap the rewards. The life of a tweet can be seconds, but the message can spread across the globe.

It’s not for everyone, but it can be of huge benefit to lawyers and law firms. Ignore social media at your peril.

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