Don’t get me wrong – I’m a fan of social media when used ethically and responsibly. Heck, I’ve got a book on social media for lawyers with Niki Black that’s coming out at the end of next month.
As a shy person myself, I understand the appeal of social media: it’s easy. You don’t risk huge rejection or embarrassment when you follow someone on Twitter or ask to friend or link with them. It’s much harder to call someone on the phone to ask for advice or set up a meeting or coffee date.
And yet, if you don’t come offline, you miss opportunities. This past weekend, I spoke on a CLE panel on solo and small firm practice at Case Western Law School. Four of the six solos or “start up” lawyers who participated in the event had either minimal, or no Internet presence in the form of a website, let alone social media. At least one guy boasted that he doesn’t even use email.
And yet, these four lawyers could have helped graduating students or new lawyers — either looking for a job or hoping to start a practice — if only they’d shown up (despite widespread advertising, the event attracted only around 15-20 people). Here’s how. These four lawyers had thriving practices. They’d been in business for twenty or thirty years, and cultivated connections within their respective communities and a deep referral pool from former clients. Three of the four emphasized how much they disliked matrimonial work and referred all family law cases to other lawyers. Likewise, two of the more advanced lawyers, who were modernizing their law firms with technology admitted that they were still learning, and could benefit from lawyers who could help keep them abreast on new technology products or e-discovery developments. At least one lawyer admitted that she planned to pass her law firm on to the next generation in the next few years, and was looking to cut back on her role in the firm and cede more responsibility to other lawyers.
Maybe the four lawyers on the panel didn’t have job openings at their firm. But they cared enough about helping new lawyers to show up at a CLE event, and I suspect that they would have appreciated the opportunity to build a relationship with a go-getting young lawyer who could accept family law cases or maybe offer some advice on technology. Maybe the relationship wouldn’t have gone anywhere, but maybe it would have lead to a connection with another lawyer who might have work, or even an opportunity down the line to buy into an existing law practice.
Based on ABA statistics on Web 2.0 use (still, less than half of solo and small firm lawyers have blogs or engage social media), my guess is that there are hundreds of lawyers in communities across the country, similarly situated, with contacts, a need for help in moving into the 21st century technology wise, and potentially a desire for an apprentice who could eventually take over a practice. But you won’t find those lawyers on Craigs List or bantering on Twitter. To track ‘em down, requires legwork: attending bar meetings, panel talks or hanging around in the hallway at the courthouse. Likewise, to reel ‘em in may require get together for coffee or an offer to do a little bit of work on spec, which sadly, many lawyers are already doing – but at least, with a solo or small firm, you’d have less competition and more hope for a permanent position or opportunities for referrals. In fact, even many lawyers who use social media extensively won’t even consider colleagues as a referral until they’ve had a chance to meet face to face.
Yes, I know that responding to dozens of inquiries on Craigs’ List and searching Linked In for job openings and chatting on Facebook makes you feel busy and productive. Me too. But is your online activity getting you the job or referrals or skills that you need? If not, maybe it’s time to supplement online connecting with face to face contacting.