Tuesday, August 26, 2008

ILTA talk on Social Networking -- Boon or Boondoggle; Tuesday afternoon

Title and Session Link: Social Networking - Marketing Boon, Malpractice Nightmare or Simple Boondoggle?


The recruiting manager has created a firm FaceBook site. The marketing director is encouraging all the lawyers to join LinkedIn. The firm's general counsel is freaking out over the possible ethic violations and malpractice possibilities. The older lawyers simply aren't sure what to do. The younger lawyers are wondering what all the hoopla is about. We explore social and business networking, the potential problems and rewards and what you can do about it.


Jeffrey Brandt -(yes he's on LinkedIn), brande new CIO / CKO of Crowell & Moring LLP

The real theme of Jeff's talk was not that social networks are a boondoggle but that they are here to stay and that attorneys and law firms had better get used to it and adapt. While Jeff had some good information about some of the possible pitfalls of social networks for lawyers and law firms, and some good statistics about adoption of social networking, he never really answered the question, "Why do people do business social networking?" (The answer I think is that they provide a varied and complex way to share information about one's life, in a way that lets you keep connected with people and learn what "light connections" you might have with people you are already working with).

Despite that shortcoming, I very much appreciated Jeff's openness to comments and contributions from the audience, in the spirit of Web 2.0. Some of the content identified below was in fact contributed by various audience members. I'm sorry I can't give audience members specific credit as I don't know their names.

His favorite definition of a social network tool was that it is simply a "phone book or directory."

Jeff tells a story of encouraging attorneys to join LinkedIn, then have the risk management people at a firm he worked at flip out. ILTA has a LinkedIn group, Jeff runs it. He has 918 connections, over 7,000,000 people "three degrees of separation" away from his connections. He only has 18 Friends in Facebook. "So I'm a geeky person with very few friends."

Only 5-6 people in the room were not in LinkedIn.

Jeff identified the leading social networks as LinkedIn, FaceBook, Second Life, MySpace, plaxo, jigsaw, Flickr, and YouTube.

Social Networking is Not Just for Kids

Facebook has 110,000,000+ users. It is the 4th most trafficked web site in the world. Several US law firms have facebook pages, but many employers block access to Facebook.

499 of Fortune 500 companies have director-level profiles and higher on LinkedIn.

Second Life and LinkedIn are Not Fads

SecondLife is a virtual world. You can drive cars, live in a house, buy things, and so forth. Sun Microsystems has world-wide meetings in SecondLife. The rule is, your "avatar" has to resemble a human being at the meeting. Intel held a seminar on software development on Second Life.

KMLegal magazine had an article about attorneys (solo practitioners) setting up virtual offices in SecondLife.


Less than 10% of firms have formal policy on employee participation in social networks. One audience member indicated the basic policy was to allow participation, but restrict it to personal use (no reference to clients). Another said no chat rooms.

A woman mentioned that her firm had tried to shut down access to social networking sites, but they found out that some attorneys were using the systems to get information about their clients on SecondLife and LinkedIn.

Attorney Profiles in Social Networking Sites

Reed Smith has 498 profiles; Jones Day & MoFo each have 520; Crowell & Moring has 249 profiles.

A person from Baker & McKenzie in the audience said that they had 780 in Facebook last year, and by this year it had doubled to 1580.

Legal OnRamp

This directory structured exclusively for attorneys includes an e-commerce component and a large amount of substantive legal content.

Marketing Benefits of LinkedIn and Social Networks

  • Raise the personal profile of the lawyer.
  • Raise the firm profile through raising the profile of its lawyers.
  • Identify additional "who knows who."
  • Good information update tool.

Martindale Hubble and Interaction are both hooking into LinkedIn.
Jeff did not get his current job through LinkedIn. But he has heard of changes to vendor representatives before the vendor CEO did, and has heard of people getting jobs through LinkedIn.

Jeff feels that involvement in social networking sites by firms qua firms may be driven by their recruiting needs.


Jeff half-jokingly claimed that the level of perceived risk can be seen by the length of the law firm's disclaimer. Some firms have very long disclaimers.

Client Relationship Creation

Can you inadvertently create a client relationship by linking or answering a question? I think that answering a question posed on LinkedIn in a way that addresses the particular factual situation of the questioner might well (and maybe even should) create an attorney-client relationship. One of the problematic features of LinkedIn and other social networking sites is that they are internet-based, and content never ages out or goes away on the internet.

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