US law firms are beginning to dabble in social technologies, but the practice is still limited and "ineffective," a new report claims.

The report, “The Social Law Firm” (registration required), was conducted by consulting firm Good2BSocial and Above the Law. It assessed how effectively the 50 largest US law firms are using social technologies.

A separate Social Law Firm Index ranked 50 firms in their use of social media.

3 Key Takeaways

Here are the main points from the report:

  1. US law firms are in "the very early stages of use and deployment of social business technologies and practices.” Many of them use social media for external marketing — the top use by far — and some also use it for recruiting and client support. All of those surveyed have a LinkedIn page, 90 percent have a Twitter account, 64 percent have a Facebook page and 30 percent have a Google Plus page.

    But the report noted that the use of social media by law firms is “inconsistent at best and often evidences only a token effort,” with little strategic messaging or positioning. For instance, only 34 percent have established a firm or practice group blog, which is frequently cited by potential clients as a factor in the decision to hire a particular firm.

  2. This lackadaisical approach has resulted in law firms that are “ineffective in their use of social media,” resulting in relatively “low levels of reach and engagement relative to the resources available and the market opportunity. Although the firms are creating substantial amounts of content for the channels they use, they are “doing little or nothing to make that content appealing, usable and shareable.” 

    Much of the shared content is in PDF,  the format law firms love because it can’t easily be changed.  However, this makes it harder to share and less easily digestible. Similarly, the report notes that there is a very low level of engagement with the public via social techniques on websites or on public social networks. “Firms continue to view social media as nothing more than a distribution channel for firm news and press releases,” the report said.

  3. Most social media effort is external, the report found, and the internal use of social business technologies in large law firms “is in its infancy.” In fact, the report noted only one of the large law firm respondents had established an internal social network, although all the responding firms have an intranet and 40 percent indicate their intranets have some social functions. Additionally, blogs, wikis, message boards, virtual deal rooms and IMs are occasionally used for internal communication.

Smaller Firms

Guy Alvarez, founder/Chief Engagement Officer at Good2BSocial and a former lawyer in a mid-sized firm, told CMSWire there are some differences in social media adoption between large and smaller firms. The smaller ones use the tools more aggressively for developing business and for facilitating teamwork, he said, and often use “it more effectively internally than larger firms.”

According to the report, smaller firms are generally not hindered by the centrally controlled IT departments that frequently regulate new technologies at large firms, and smaller firms tend to have a thriving bring-your-own-device and “consumerization of IT” culture that larger ones do not. As a result, smaller firms are closer to becoming social businesses, with over 20 percent reporting that their firms’ use of social business tools is effective. Larger firms tend to describe their use of social business tools as negligible or limited.

Alvarez also noted that firms’ control of their employees’ social media varies. “Some firms lock down the ability of lawyers to publish through social media,” he told us, “while others are more lax about it.” He pointed out that the more lax ones “usually also have good social media training programs and policies.”

Learning Opportunities

‘Cautious Strategy’

CMSWire asked Molly Porter, Digital Communications Manager at the global law firm DLA Piper, how her firm – ranked No. 1 overall in the Social Law Firm Index – was able to avoid having its lawyers blog or tweet in ways that caused problems.

She said that the attorneys are aware of ethical rules about attorney advertising or client confidentiality, and any social media accounts that are not official firm accounts are asked to post clear disclaimers. “We do have lawyers who run their personal blogs,” she noted, adding that she “would never want to be in the position of filtering every social media account” maintained by a lawyer in the firm.

Suzanne Piner is Head of Communications at Hogan Lovells, a global law firm that took second place in the overall Social Law Firm Index. She told us that professional services firms such as law firms “have moved more slowly to use social media externally,” employing a planned, “cautious strategy.” Blogs, she noted, can be helpful if “someone is looking for lawyers in a particular area.” Journalists also make use of them when trying to connect with experts. 

The report paints an interesting picture of a social business evolution in which smaller, nimbler firms are actively utilizing new tools to close the gap between themselves and their larger, more recognizable competitors.