By Brian John Spencer
Special to the Legal
Lawyers are living in an age of change. The Western world is in the throes of a digital revolution and clients are in revolt. Clients want more for less, they want more flexible fee arrangements and they demand commercially aware legal advisers.
Then, of course, there’s the economy to deal with. We’re living through the most prolonged economic contraction since the Great Depression and so the secondary effects weigh heavy on the shoulders of the legal and professional services industry.
But these broader societal changes demand one thing: that attorneys change the way they do business. Already, some law firms and attorneys are adapting to the new environment and they’re showing that these are actually exciting times to be an attorney – just not a traditional attorney. Rather, this is the age to be an online attorney, to be a digital attorney.
Riverview Law are leading in a vanguard of progressive law firms that have a massive online presence and by doing so are truly reimagining the way that legal services are delivered. Then there’s Scottish solicitor Brian Inkster, a prolific tweeter, blogger and all things social media, who illustrates exactly how online should be done. And for those attorneys and law firms uncertain of the online world, there’s the comforting presence of the experienced attorney Kevin O’Keefe, who is signposting exactly how attorneys can get into the online world.
These guys tell a simple story. By making the most of the digital resources available and by expanding online reach, an attorney can expect to grow his or her profile and reputation by doing what he or she has always done offline: network, build relationships, build a strong reputation, influence others, show specialism, drive conversation and engender trust.
By combining these traditional offline tasks and habits with an online digital strategy, an attorney can expect to grow his or her business and really set him or herself apart from the competition.
The attorney is the consummate networker who relies on relationships for work, so it makes sense for an attorney to build an online identity and a presence across the various social networking platforms such as Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.
But as well as being the consummate networkers, attorneys are hard-headed, evidence-based and intelligence-driven professionals. So they want facts and methodologically rigorous proof that sets out a compelling case for getting online, for joining the various social networks and for being a digital attorney.
Already there have been a number of persuasive studies that have set out in clear-cut, empirical terms just how powerful social media can be to an attorney.
In May 2012, the Pew Research Centre found that 15 percent of online adults use Twitter and of those, 8 percent use it daily. This last figure of 8 percent doubled from May 2011 and multiplied by a factor of four from the end of 2010. For young adults (18-29), the figures for Twitter usage are considerably higher at 28 percent and 31 percent for those aged 18-24.
These figures paint a clear picture that social media and the Internet are increasingly becoming part of the social fabric of daily life. Social media is changing the way we do business, the media, politics and family life. And the way people do law is no different.
As more and more people move their daily dealings online, it is clear that consumer habits are changing. And so, rather unsurprisingly, when the need for an attorney arises, consumers are going online. In a survey presented by www.lawyerist.com, it was found that 21.9 percent of those surveyed are using Google or another search engine when starting out to find a speciality lawyer.
Then there was another similar survey by LexisNexis, which found that 26 percent of consumers used social media to find an attorney.
These numbers are authoritative and weighty and they clearly paint a picture of a consumer market in the throes of change. Not only do they want more for less, they are changing the way they behave. And so it’s a matter for law firms to track, follow and adapt to the market movements.
If law firms don’t keep up with the pace of innovation and market movements, there can be repercussions. In a recent social media audit by Martindale Hubbell, it was said that those who aren’t on social media risk projecting themselves to clients as “dangerously out of touch.” Kevin O’Keefe, writing on the widely read LexBlog, said that an online presence can help lawyers to close a deal.
But for me, it’s not just about keeping up with the pace of change, it’s about continually pushing on the parameters of traditional practice. In this age, it’s about setting yourself apart and the online and social media world allows that. It’s clear to see that digital technology is continually expanding into daily life and as demographics transition it will become part and parcel not only of daily life but of daily business.
So it’s a matter of playing yourself ahead of the game; by doing that you can expect to take the competitive advantage and mark yourself out as the market leader. Those who do will, as O’Keefe said, “have a lasting competitive advantage.”
Brian John Spencer is a blogger, political cartoonist and digital media strategist commenting on politics and developments that affect the legal profession. He also has a passion for youth unemployment and regularly provides career guidance for those in law school.