I am not an expert on social media, but I can share what I have learned and observed.
I first got on Twitter when my assistant at my first firm job said I would be good on it and set me up an account (thanks Morgan) and thus as @CEFIPLaw I began connecting with referral sources, collaborators, current clients, and my wish list of clients, to be part of the conversation. I also set up a LinkedIn profile and began answering questions, asking for and giving recommendations, and posting articles regularly.
I truly enjoy being part of a virtual community, and then reaching out and making live connections for follow-ups. When I leave a networking event with a business card of someone I want to keep in my network, I immediately connect with them on LinkedIn, Twitter, and send them an email. Being the first person to follow-up after an event can definitely make a good impression on someone.
I think this is because I am easy to find and approachable, and in large part because my target audience is on social media. This arm of marketing is no different than choosing whether to pay for an advertisement in a publication - does your audience read that publication? My target audience for my law practice has been small businesses, artists, and budding entrepreneurs - they are all running their own social media campaigns to get attention on their brand. I think that by being in the same space and conversation as they are, by retweeting and promoting their posts or events, it shows that I really care (which I do) and makes them feel more comfortable with me. Putting professional content out under my handle also helps to create a personal brand for myself, which is very valuable.
Where I currently work, I basically head up the firm's efforts to work with smaller businesses that will one day grow into larger businesses with more complex legal needs. My ability to market myself and the firm through both physical presence at events and speaking engagements, and my social media presence helped me bring in over 70 new clients during my first year there. That is 70+ small businesses or entrepreneurs who had legal questions or needs on varying levels of size or complexity, and a significant chunk of those 70+ matters came from my planting seeds using social media and follow-up strategies.
Now that I am also in the blogosphere interacting with law students and new lawyers I see very drastic examples of new professionals using social media well and very poorly. This post isn't to give you a how-to on social media (maybe later), but I want to highlight a story of a law student doing it right. I recently reached out on our Twitter feed and asked for recommendations of law students using social media effectively, and then followed up with James Stewart, a third year, evening law student at George Washington University Law School. Between his first and second years, he transferred from the Catholic University of America. He has worked full time during his entire tenure at law school. He already paints a picture of a non-traditional law student, who is really making it work to attend and do well in school and in life.
"Prior to about two months ago, I worked for an international franchise as their brand manager and responsible of worldwide marketing. In this position, I developed social media strategy, brand guidelines, enforced brand standards in order to main a consistent image, managed outside counsel, managed and exploited our trademark portfolio (domestic and international), and create our global public relations and marketing strategy.
In June, I was recruited by BigLawFirm* to work in their trademark, copyright, and media practice as a law clerk. My knowledge of branding, marketing, small business, social media, and public relations were key in their hiring of me. I stood out as a candidate because I was not a typical candidate. Now, mind you, I would not have gotten a job at this firm had I relied on the on-paper version of myself alone. I made this contact through getting out there and having a story to tell about a passion I have for intellectual property and branding - coupled with key examples of relevant and unique experience. Additionally, my knowledge of social media appealed to the firm on two levels: 1) social media savvy member of the group to advise clients; and 2) new business development.
No one is going to hand you a job in BigLaw because you have a law degree. I think this is something a lot of law students and students considering law school (sadly) don't understand. Going to law school doesn't mean a great salary automatically anymore. Distinguishing yourself is tough, because there are so many talented people out there. Things people can do, however, are to find their passion and to build their personal brand. Figuring out a way you can bring business to the practice and determining your ability to impact the bottom line are key. If you think this sounds boring, then maybe BigLaw is not for you.
Clearly, I have a lot of opinions. Some are harsher than others. My mind never shuts off, and I love being creative. I pride myself on being a legal professional who thinks outside the box and I love trademarks, copyright, and media because it is the perfect intersection of creativity, business, and law."
So yes, if you are also interested in an area of law that is directly related to social media, it seems a no-brainer you would be savvy. But if you are interested in litigation, corporate, public interest, or higher education positions for your future, does this still matter? YES it does. Not all of your future employers will be on social media, and I would guess very few BigLaw hiring partners are on Twitter all day - but I would bet that someone in the office is on social media. If you can connect with associates or staff on LinkedIn and Twitter before you submit your application, and you post an impressive article or comment, your name may stand out in the stack of resumes when they review on behalf of the hiring partner. In the current job market, it can only help to be visible in multiple ways (unless of course you are using social media to act immature, badmouth others, or other embarrassing things).
Yes, there are lots of very specific things you should never post on social media and as a legal professional the stringency is heightened. My motto by no means captures actual recommendations from the ABA or confidentiality requirements, but it's a good place to start. Instead of being too scared to get out there, start simple and keep it clean.
Make sure to connect with me on Twitter @HappyGoLegal, on Facebook and on LinkedIn so I can get to know you better!
*Firm name has been withheld at author's request.
Chelsea Callanan is the founder of Happy Go Legal, a multi-media resource for new and aspiring legal professionals. Mrs. Callanan is a 2008 graduate of the University of Maine School of Law, and currently practices at Murray, Plumb & Murray in Portland, Maine, focusing on corporate and intellectual property needs of business of all sizes.