For lawyers, social networking has always been an important feature of the way they do business, and there are many characteristics of lawyerly behaviour that map very closely to the features of online social networking, such as:
- Relationship based-business development;
- Individual brand based on reputation and trust;
- Expertise location and knowledge proliferation through social networks;
- Development of legal content and expertise as a social endeavour;
- Strong guild-like legal community.
Nevertheless, as traditionally conservative adopters of technology, many lawyers simply have not had the time to consider the implications of these social and technological developments, whilst others dismiss them as passing fads or consider them unlikely to have any real impact on the legal world.
The popularity of networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube has tended to limit perceptions of social networking to the online out-of-work pass-time of the younger (Net) generation, leaving many lawyers struggling to see beyond these media-created impressions of online networking.
Some question the value of professional networking sites, which have yet to attract a critical mass of participants. Others do not see as relevant activities like micro-blogging, social tagging and bookmarking, or are concerned with perceived risks associated with online social networking stemming from a breach of ethics or data security, and “inappropriate” behaviour.
These concerns, which need to be acknowledged and addressed if we are to see widespread adoption, have not deterred some innovative legal professionals who have observed the highly visible success and popularity of sites such as Wikipedia, Delicious, Facebook and LinkedIn, and are getting involved in social networking in an effort to secure competitive advantage through:
- Development and exploitation of social capital within online social networks;
- Development of collective intelligence, both inside the firm and more broadly within a market context;
- Informal knowledge sharing using online social tools and networks.
Within the firm, over-structured group collaboration tools are increasingly giving way to lightweight wiki-based team and group spaces. Costly internal newsletters are becoming blogs, one-way intranet publishing is being opened up using wikis, RSS is starting to replace email alerts and internal social networks are taking forward the concept of expertise location and ‘know who’.
Within the marketplace, online social networking is helping legal professionals and firms alike to increase their visibility and be part of the conversation where ever it is happening, build reputation and relationships, recruit and retain the best and brightest new legal minds who have grown up as internet natives, and provided value-added personalised legal services and secure referrals.
Clearly, there are many opportunities to re-think the way firms operate and emerge as more effective businesses. Have you thought about the potential for improvement in your firm?