Lawyers Turning Away From Twitter?

July 3, 2009

The Law.com Legal Blog Watch has been doing an excellent job of covering stories about lawyers who despise Twitter.  Okay, “despise” might be a mischaracterization.  They have posted blogs by Larry Bodine on why lawyers should not use Twitter and more recently, on Tom McLain’s departure from Twitter.  To its credit, Law.com has also blogged in favor of Twitter marketing via hyper-popular Adrian Dayton’s blawg review.

The Social Media Lawyer wants to weigh in: Don’t buy the hype — on either side.

Bodine and McLain are correct.  Twitter will not build a law practice.  Just like buying a stack of fancy looking business cards, leasing some fancy new office space, or “hanging up a shingle” won’t build a law practice.  But the current discussion of Twitter as a marketing tool is too narrow (and often misunderstood).  For example, Bodine states:

After months of using Twitter, I’ve learned that it is a shouting post for relentless self-promoters, a dumping ground for press releases and advertising, an ego-driven competition to amass followers, and a target for computer-automated Tweets.

Wow.  That sounds a lot like the same problems that come along with advertising in phone books or on billboards.  I  disagree with Bodine’s claim that Twitter cannot be used for business development.  The underlying principle of social media is to connect people who share some sort of commonality.  Those people are more likely to turn to each other in their decision making processes.  In our business, having a big network, especially a big network that trusts you and frequently benefits from our advice, is invaluable.

McLain’s approach is more reasonable.  He doesn’t outright criticize Twitter as a marketing tool.  Rather, he states:

A fair assessment of my own marketing practices is that my priorities have been wrong and I was spending too much time on Twitter and not enough on higher ranking methods.

And in all fairness, everyone should read McLain’s response (which can be found below), which explains the purpose for his infamous “tweet” and provides a much better and more thorough explanation of McLain’s thoughts on Twitter marketing than can be found on the infamous Law.com blog post.

That said, it still strikes me as odd that the concept of Twitter marketing can be completely written off with a straight face.  Good lawyers know that a good law practice is built — and has always been built — based on good legal work and good results.  Law firm marketing, outside the P.I. world, focuses on highlighting your specialties and the unique characteristics that you bring to the table.  When was the last time someone retained Kirkland, Skadden, or Cravath from a phone book ad?  Never.  (On a side note, I think Quinn Emanuel’s “Justice is Blind” campaign is clever and probably effective).

For firm lawyers, at least, Twitter is not about building a practice; it is about sustaining a practice.  Twitter, like blogs, like newsletters, like updates, like all those other things you send out to your clients, simply helps you share your wares.  It is a showcase.  A much classier showcase than the back of a phone book.  As numerous law firms have already noticed, Twitter is a fast, easy, and efficient way of proclaiming their success and their expertise.  This is good marketing, not an “an ego-driven competition to amass followers,” as Bodine would have you believe.  Check out these names:

Fulbright & Jaworski
McDermott Will & Emery
Weil Gotshal & Manges
Greenberg Traurig

And other major players are waiting in the wings. According to @LawyerKM, here are some of the firms making their Twitter presence known:

Those, my friends, are some heavy hitters.  They aren’t “active” yet and it is possible that the firms don’t intend to use the Twitter feeds.  But they are there none the less.

Now, it is true that Twitter is a new technology, in the process of developing, and it is most certainly not an end-all-be-all to lawyer marketing.  But to simply discount it as a marketing method is ridiculous.  Especially in a time when clients want to know who their attorneys are, the types of people they will be working with, and what unique characteristics and abilities their counselors bring to the table.  Trust me lawyers; clients will use Twitter to compare law firms in the same way that they are currently using Martindale-Hubbell and LinkedIn.

Twitter is a client facilitator.  Other uses may develop over time but there are plenty of opportunities out there already.  We are lawyers; we practice law; we market so that we can practice law.  Twitter is only a small part of a marketing plan that is even a smaller part of building a successful legal practice.  But Twitter is a factor in that plan and while there may be some people who disagree, but those people are wrong.  Don’t worry, this site will contain many more articles about how social media is helping practicing and firm lawyers achieve success.

UPDATE: 7/3/2009:

Seyfarth Shaw LLP definitely has a Twitter presence.  Check out the comments and follow them at @seyfarthshawLLP – http://twitter.com/seyfarthshawLLP (Mark, thinks for the heads-up!)

Haynes and Boone LLP is on board too: @haynesboone – http://twitter.com/haynesboone

–Tyson
http://twitter.com/tysonsnow (@tysonsnow)
http://linkedin.com/in/tysonsnow

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