The Law Society’s new social media guidelines for professionals have prompted some interesting comment – not least that the Society is trying to play catch up in an area about which it has previously been thought less than expert… One of the most thoughtful commentators is Jon Bloor writing on his PeninsuLawyer blog. He addresses a range of important questions and highlights two key issues which emerge:
- is there a measurable benefit to law firms from social media?
- how to separate/manage the personal and professional?
Taking the personal/professional question first. This is not unique to the UK legal profession. Most of the issues have been addressed by other professional services organisations.
Marketing is one obvious area. In my former life as a CMO, I decided guidance was job number one: letting people know what was advisable and what was not… and explaining that common sense (and company employment contracts) applied on Twitter and Facebook as much as in any public forum, even the bar or pub.
Issues to do with client confidentiality and ‘poaching’ apply to most professional services firms. UK solicitors may be bound by additional professional restrictions but this is a matter of degree. And the same red herrings apply regarding whether an employee can be simultaneously an ‘individual’ and, separately, a ‘lawyer’.
But this is, in the end, merely tinkering – the real question is how to maintain professional secrecy in a world of pervasive, instant transparency. Legal firms are caught up in the same dilemma facing us all – in a world where everything must be assumed to be open – however unfair, inconvenient or damaging – what kind of business privacy is legitimate?
Of course, a lot depends on whether you approach the topic as an opportunity or somewhat fearfully. The Law Society’s practice note, perhaps like the profession itself, seems uncertain on this – even contradictory in places.
As a CMO for a marketing firm, I was naturally very positive about social media. When we produced our guidelines in 2005, it was still relatively early days and we wanted to ensure that we walked before we ran – and that when we stumbled, we learned. But we also wanted to ensure that they worked for us, not just the industry. By the same token, although The Law Society’s guidance is a good start, individual law firms will still need to create their own specific principles and guidelines that take best practice from the profession (and elsewhere) but fit with what their own organisation is trying to achieve.
But guidelines aside, as ‘social marketing’ becomes much more mainstream partners in many firms will still be asking if it really matters for them as opposed to their clients. For example, the Law Society report says, in effect that there are no metrics to show that social media is beneficial to law firms in attracting business.
As my colleague Niall Cook has set out, this has to start with the business itself and how it measures operational and marketing success. In our PRINT™ methodology, we have tried to provide a framework for marketers to use to measure how social media is supporting the achievement of their goals. But without these goals, no metrics are useful. So is the problem here social media metrics, or the traditionally indifferent attitude of law firms towards marketing?
Time will tell if the new SRA guidelines for alternative business structures (ABSs) – the so-called ‘Tesco Law’ introduced a month or two ago without a squeak, let alone a fanfare – will change this. The new Law Society guidelines themselves are unlikely to do so.