You’ve seen the cartoon and its captions (or some version of it) a thousand times: On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog. And while it’s true that the cloud, the web and social media make it all too easy for a lawyer to throw up a website that conveys the impression of a statewide, multi-office firm but is really just a one-man shop, the Internet cuts the other way as well, making us question those who are the real deal.
Take my friend and Social Media for Lawyers co-author, Nicole Black for example. Seven years ago, when I first met Nicole online through a comment on my blog , she’d just returned to the practice of law as a young mother following a two year hiatus from the law firm where she worked after having served as a public defender. Today, she’s a superstar ; of counsel at an upstate New York law firm, vice president of MyCase, in-demand keynote speaker, a cloud-based law practice management platform, a syndicated Daily Record columnist, and author of the leading book on Cloud Computing for Lawyers as well as co-author of the social media book and author of a criminal law treatise o for Thompson-West publications. And she still finds time to cook amazing meals for her family.
Niki does so many things and does them so well that it’s hard to believe. If I didn’t know Niki as well as I do, I’d doubt it myself. But having co-authored a book with Niki (which frankly, would never have been completed but for Niki’s speed-of-light writing pace which forced me to stay to schedule), I know of few people who work as hard or as efficiently or can match her prescient intuition.
Still, Niki faces her share of doubters – which makes me wonder: how can we discern the dogs from the dynamos online? I’m not sure that I know the answer – but it’s important that we figure it out and soon. Google searches can uncover bar complaints or reported cases or publications which yield some information. Testimonials and endorsements seem promising at first, but not if they’re offered in exchange for a reciprocal endorsement by an affiliate or some other quid pro quo. Many, myself included, lauded social media as a barometer of authenticity but as we all know, social media presence, like anything else IRL can be bought, sold or manipulated.
Some say that none of this matters anyway. That we ought to simply ignore all negative commentary directed at us because to respond gives it credibility and instead, function within our insular little circles of enablers, er, fans. Yet that’s not right either — because if we never respond when someone’s been criticized, how can others evaluate the critique?
Certainly, Niki does not need my aid; her reputation, her record and her own words speak for themselves. Rather, it’s the Internet public that needs the help to distinguish real dogs from the real deal. When we don’t speak out, even occasionally, to defend ourselves or those whom we admire because we’re afraid of the fall out, we deprive the public of insights that can help them gain a better idea of whether someone is real or not. Doesn’t that make us the real dogs?