So, social media for lawyers has been experiencing a bit of a backlash lately. Some of it, deservedly so — and that’s from someone who’s co-authored a book on the subject. By now, many lawyers are not only recognizing, but beginning to agree that despite the hype from self-professed experts social media doesn’t make lawyers richer or smarter or more authentic. Nor will it change what really matters about being a lawyer. Yet even though all of this is true, I can’t help but gush about the value of social media in honor of Mother’s Day. Because only did social media keep me in the game when I was barely hanging on, scrambling to work while staying home with my daughters, but it launched me on a trajectory that would never have otherwise been possible. [warning – the next few paragraphs are kind of me-centric so if that doesn’t appeal, maybe you ought to skip to the very end]
It started with blogging. When I launched MyShingle in December 2002 (after six months of development and planning), my daughters had just turned three and six. At the time, I’d been working part-time with ad hoc help from my husband and parents. In my practice area which then relied heavily on meet-and-greet (still does), my part time status was nearly a death-knell – and I was hanging on by a thread. But blogging at MyShingle helped turn that around – or at least pushed me to an alternative path as a commentator on solo practice – and a paid blogger at a mainstream legal publication.
But in our uniquely flat world, the MyShingle experience – though it has nothing to do with energy regulatory work – benefited my law practice. After learning the ropes of blogging at MyShingle, I started the Renewables Offshore Blog, which covered legal developments in the then- nascent offshore wind and ocean energy field. At the time, marine renewables still weren’t ready for prime time and were vastly underfunded – so I was really the only lawyer in the US optimistic enough – or desperate enough – to work on these issues. With time away from my practice, I could have lost my edge, but Renewables Offshore kept me in the game, providing visibility that lead to speaking engagements at prominent industry conferences. Equally fortuitously, the fact that I actually knew how to set up a blog was what enabled theOcean Renewable Energy Coalition , a trade association that I co-founded on a lark with a colleague who I met at a conference, to get off the ground. We wanted to start the group quickly and my ability to create a web presence (as well as put together the paperwork to incorporate and create a 501(c)(6)) as well as my regulatory knowledge helped us get started. Six years later, we have sixty members – and I’ve had the chance to draft legislation, comment on and propose rules, work with lobbyists… and even speak at UNESCO.
Blogging also mitigated the isolation that I felt while I spent so much time at home by introducing me to other lawyers-bloggers – including my colleague and eventual Social Media for Lawyers co-author and friend, Niki Black. Yes, it may be touchy feely – but when everyone around you is either a happy stay-at-home mom, or working 80 hour weeks at a law firm, finding opportunities to exchange ideas and interact collegially with other lawyers can make a big difference in one’s psyche.
My interest in social media flowed naturally from blogging about solo issues because other forms of social media — LinkedIn and Facebook and Twitter — seemed like a promising and inexpensive way for solos to share knowledge and build relationships with clients and each other. I wrote an ebook on Social Networking for Lawyers in 2008, which helped lay the ground for the ABA book.
Flash forward to 2011. Today, my daughters are 11 and 14. My stress filled days of racing to the bus stop by 4 pm for pick up — days which at the time seemed so harrowing and endless — are behind me. My daughters can walk home from the bus on their own, cook dinner for themselves and stay home alone until fairly late at night – which means that I can attend conferences and networking functions without having to scramble for coverage. I don’t do it all the time because I still want to be around for my girls – but I have the option available at least a couple of days a week and it’s made a world of a difference.
In three years, my older daughter will leave for college. In six years, they’ll both be gone. At the end of this month, I turn 47. If I had to start all over now – as the generation that came before, I’d be lucky to reach the stage that I’m at now by the time I’d turn 60. Or maybe not at all because the legal profession and the world has changed so rapidly over the past decade that I may never have caught up. And as much as I love my daughters and wanted children desperately and at the time, was ready to (and partly did) toss my career to devote myself to them, I think that I might have some regrets (both personal and financial – in terms of being able to pay for college) if I’d have lost my livelihood as a lawyer.
Fortunately, because of social media, I never had to find out. Today, I have a fairly well respected and eclectic little energy practice in a field dominated by big firms with big money – and a popular blog and books to boot. To be clear – social media alone didn’t get me to this place – I work damn hard. But social media opened the doors — of that I’m certain. Without it, all of my effort, all of my work wouldn’t have mattered because I wouldn’t have been able to get it in front of people’s faces, particularly with the constraints that I faced working part-time. Moreover, social media gave me an opportunity to create a portfolio of work when I didn’t have a lot going on in my practice – so that I had something worth showing to potential referral sources. (a point that, interestingly, is referenced by Michael Arrington at Tech Crunch; he argues that it’s so easy to create an app or a neato website, that tech companies will soon be asking interviewees to show what they’ve done instead of just code hypothetical problems. Same may be true in law too).
On every other day, you’ll find me nodding in agreement with the legitimate criticisms of social media, cringing at some of the unethical practices and enjoying a chuckle — even at my expense — at the often hilarious and frenetic snide comments about the darker side of social media. But today, for Mother’s Day, I’m unabashedly celebrating the awesome power of a social media – not only salvaging my career but advancing it during those long years when I sat out on the sidelines. And I’m looking forward to the ways that social media will help generations of lawyer moms to come.
Happy Mother’s Day to all!