As an attorney, you’re paid to be an excellent communicator—but are you as effective when it comes to social media for lawyers?
When considering law firm marketing strategies, some legal professionals overlook the enormous power of social media: The prospect of continually sending tweets, likes, and shares can feel overly time-consuming at first glance, so it may seem easier to just sidestep social media—but this could be a big mistake for your business.
The way we communicate with each other is evolving, and modern lawyers need to understand how to effectively and ethically use social media in order to keep up and grow their law firm.
With 69% of American adults now using at least one social media site, not utilizing social media as a lawyer means missing out on a large pool of potential clients. Even worse, as more and more of your colleagues move to integrate social strategies into their marketing plans, being a social media luddite could leave you looking outdated to prospective clients—if they even find you at all.
On the other hand, by attracting new clients, establishing your authority in the legal space, and directing online traffic to your firm, social media can be a valuable marketing tool for lawyers—if it’s done right.
But where should you start
In this comprehensive guide to social media for lawyers, we’ve done the research for you. From detailing how social media can help your business grow, to a step-by-step guide to building a social media strategy for your firm, to outlining the social channels that lawyers should know (and which they may want to avoid), and more, we’ll cover everything you need to know to succeed with social media as a lawyer.
Let’s begin with a good question.
Do lawyers really need to be on social media?
In the digital age, there’s no getting around it: your competitors and colleagues are using social media, so you need to jump online if you want to stay current.
According to the American Bar Association (ABA)’s 2018 Legal Technology Survey Report, 76% of the nearly 4,000 ABA-member respondents reported that “that their firms maintained a presence in online communities or social networks.” The numbers are even higher when it comes to individual lawyers, with 79% of respondents using one or more social networks for professional purposes.
So, with the majority of firms and lawyers now on social media, attorneys who are not using social strategies are increasingly in the minority.
However, being on social media is more than just not being left behind; social media is also a valuable channel for networking and being placed in the view of potential clients.
Social media gets you new clients
Social networking gives you exposure to new networks of people and, subsequently, new clients.
As the ABA’s 2018 Survey reported, overall, 35% of those surveyed who use social media for professional purposes have gained clients—either directly or through a referral—via this channel. The result is even better for small firms: 42% of firms of 2-9 attorneys got new clients through social media.
Social media gives clients another way to find you
Social media also reveals new channels to drive people to your law firm’s website—where potential clients can find the information they need to hire you and your firm.
For example, the path from seeing you on social media to hiring your firm might look like this:
- You share a blog post you write about how newly married couples should structure their wills on Facebook.
- That potential client clicks on the link to read the post on your website, where you’ve added an online intake form using Clio Grow’s custom intake form tool.
- The potential client completes the online intake form.
- The client then automatically appears in your Clio Lead Inbox.
Of course, a potential client’s online journey is rarely that straightforward and simple, but being present on social media gives you another avenue to capture new clients’ attention in a place where they’re already spending time.
Social media is a place to engage with the community
Lawyers can also use social media to build up their profile within the legal community. By participating in social networks with other attorneys and legal professionals, you can stay up-to-date on what’s trending and important in your legal community, and offer your own commentary to be seen as a leader in your space. Below are a few examples of groups to join on LinkedIn:
How to build a social media strategy
In order to get an adequate return on the investment of your time, you need to have a plan for your social media as a lawyer. While your individual plan should be unique to you, your practice area, and your client base, the following steps can be used as guidelines to get your social media on the right track.
Step 1: Know the rules
Make sure you know the rules and responsibilities lawyers have on social media in your jurisdiction before you even think of making an account for yourself as a lawyer or your firm.
Check out the law society and bar rules for compliance responsibilities and ethics regulations, and be sure you know them, before you post, tweet, or story anything.
Step 2: Identify your goals
What do you hope to gain from stepping up your social media game? Do you want more clients? If so, how many? Do you want to elevate your prestige in the legal community?
Make realistic and attainable short-term and long-term goals for your professional social media. Once you know what you’re looking for, you can use those goals as guidelines as you plan your social media strategy.
Step 3: Do your research
Check out what other lawyers and firms in your practice area are doing in the social media space: Identify what works for them, and what would turn you away if you were a potential client.
If you want to stay on top of what other legal influencers are up to, keep track of what they’re doing in the social media space. Follow them, engage with their content, and join their online communities.
Step 4: Start small
While it can be exciting to jump in and try out a bunch of social media platforms at once, you might be doing yourself a disservice if you take on too many platforms.
By starting too many social accounts, you’re more likely to get overwhelmed and not be able to dedicate the proper time and attention to each of them—leading to potential ethics violations or abandoned social accounts, which does your firm more harm than good.
Instead, take the advice of Samantha Collier, a social media specialist and the founder of Social Media for Law Firms, and start small and manageable. “Lawyers should start with one platform. They should create an account and see what other lawyers in their practice are doing. Don’t post right away—watch and listen. Look for their target clients online, see where they hang out. Get a feel for the conversation style. Learn the lingo.”
In the future, you can always reassess what’s working, and add in more social media platforms that can complement your strategy
Step 5: Choose your platform
There are many factors that go into choosing what platforms will work best for your unique take on social media for lawyers.
Don’t just choose what seems popular or what you like to use in your personal life: Consider factors like your goals, your social media skills, your audience, your practice area, and the amount of time you have to dedicate to social media marketing.
Step 6: Consider your content
Plan what type of content you’ll be posting to your social media accounts. Whether you’re curating content through sharing or re-tweeting, you plan to focus on engaging with people in comments, or you want to develop new content to post as part of your marketing plan, it’s a good idea to think about what works best for you as you plan your strategy.
Step 7: Set a schedule
Time is of the essence, especially when it comes to effective social media for lawyers.
Consider creating a social media content calendar and using social media scheduling tools (like Hootsuite). By pre-planning when you’ll release your content, you remove the stress of trying to think of what to post in the moment. Additionally, this time for review before posting can also be helpful in reducing your risk of accidentally violating ethics rules or client confidentiality in a rush to post.
Another benefit of scheduling your social media is that you can create or curate content in batches ahead of time, allowing you to be more efficient.
You’ll also be more consistent in your posting if you schedule it in advance—allowing you to appear more active, and promote more engagement with your account.
Step 8: Measure your results
Measuring engagement can be simple (seeing how many times your content is liked, shared, or retweeted or watching your follower count grow) or more complex (looking at detailed analytics to understand the demographics of who your social media is impacting). Either way, regularly review your progress so you can reassess and—ultimately—grow.
The ethics of social media for lawyers
As we’ve explored, social media provides numerous opportunities to grow your client base, referrals, and business—but this, in turn, also creates new opportunities for lawyers to make errors when it comes to ethics and technology.
While it’s your responsibility as a lawyer to know the rules for social media in your jurisdiction, here are some best practices to follow as a start:
1. Avoid creating lawyer-client relationships online
You know that when you’re creating a lawyer-client relationship, you’re bound by the ethical obligations that go along with it—but did you know that you could inadvertently trigger a lawyer-client relationship (and its subsequent ethical obligations) through your actions online?
It could be as simple as answering a specific legal question from a potential client on social media—but as soon as a relationship is created (even by answering questions online), you’re on the hook.
As such, be very cautious when interacting with potential clients over social media. Never answer a specific legal question through a response on social media. Instead, suggest scheduling a consultation or formal meeting to dig into the details.
2. Keep the personal, personal
While you don’t have to have separate social media accounts for your personal and professional life, it’s a good idea to keep things separate in order to stay compliant.
By having a distinct social account for your professional work as a lawyer, you can avoid accidentally misusing confidential client information.
This could happen, for example, if you integrate your social media accounts with other apps. If those apps have the ability to view your connections—and you’re connected to a client—you’ve inadvertently informed a third-party of that connection.
By having separate professional social media accounts, you can help protect client information, and you can be selective about which apps and services you interact with.
3. Keep client information confidential
Speaking of client information: As a lawyer, it’s absolutely essential that you preserve client confidentially by communicating with clients via secure channels.
Don’t collect or share client information through your professional social media platforms. Instead, use a secure portal like Clio Connect.
Similarly, when it comes to messaging with clients about their cases, stay away from social media and instead use a secure, encrypted messaging app like Signal.
It’s also important to regularly review your privacy settings on social media, and ensure that they comply with any bar ethics rules.
4. Only speak (and post) the truth
While it may seem obvious be truthful in your communications, the nature of social media is different from other forms of communication—so it’s important to be extra careful.
Posting something that’s false, or even something that’s mostly true (but omits key details), is unethical, and it breaks the rules.
According to ABA Rule 7.1, “A lawyer shall not make a false or misleading communication about the lawyer or the lawyer’s services. A communication is false or misleading if it contains a material misrepresentation of fact or law, or omits a fact necessary to make the statement considered as a whole not materially misleading.”
5. Be careful what you call yourself
If you call yourself names, make sure they’re the right ones.
While social media may seem casual in some instances, it’s against the rules to refer to yourself as an “expert” or “specialist” in most cases, unless you’re formally certified as such. Specifically, as ABA Rule 7.2 says:
“A lawyer shall not state or imply that a lawyer is certified as a specialist in a particular field of law, unless:
(1) the lawyer has been certified as a specialist by an organization that has been approved by an appropriate authority of the state or the District of Columbia or a U.S. Territory or that has been accredited by the American Bar Association; and
(2) the name of the certifying organization is clearly identified in the communication.”
6. Don’t make friends for the wrong reasons
When you’re trying to win a case, it may be tempting to use social media to gain access to people or information that could help your case—but, in order to stay ethically compliant, you must resist.
For example, if you happen to notice the profile of a witness or juror for your case on Facebook, don’t send them a message about how you went to high school together if you’re really looking to do research for your case. If their profile is set to private, you’ll likely be violating ethics rules.
7. Watch your tone
Social media is—by nature—informal, instantaneous, and often off-the-cuff. However, as a lawyer, it’s imperative that you maintain your professionalism at all times—even when you’re online.
Avoid getting into heated debates (no matter how right you’re sure you are) and make sure your online reputation reflects the best version of yourself as a legal professional.
Tip: To learn more, listen to the episode “Why Online Presence Matters” of Clio’s podcast, Matters.
8. Don’t solicit clients directly
In most jurisdictions, it’s not okay to solicit clients directly over social media.
Take the example of seeing someone’s post on Facebook about being in a car accident: If you comment on the post that you can help the person sue, that’s direct solicitation—and it’s likely not allowed. To stay safe, don’t comment on these types of posts, and never directly solicit clients for cases.
Choosing the right networks
You don’t need to have a profile on every single social media platform (in fact, as mentioned earlier, taking on too much social media could be a bad idea for your firm). Picking one or two social networks to focus on is a better bet: You’ve just got to focus on which networks are right for you.
Always provide value
Be strategic when selecting which social media networks you’re going to invest your time and energy in—only choose platforms that let you bring something of value to your potential client pool.
Think of it this way: As a lawyer, the point of using social media is ultimately to acquire more clients and more business. To attract the attention of potential clients online, present yourself professionally, get yourself in the view of potential clients, and add value to their day through useful, impactful content.
For example, with Twitter and LinkedIn, you can share blog posts with basic information about what to think about when making a will or eight things to do when you decide to separate. These are valuable topics and clients might want to save your pieces to reference them for later, so a more ephemeral Snapchat or Instagram story highlighting your tips might not be the best bet.
As Samantha says, “Lawyers will get clients through social media by adding value. They do this by sharing content that people will find useful.
“That way, should the need come up for their services, the lawyer’s name will pop into the reader’s head. A lawyer should try to become the CNN of his or her practice area—that was something I heard Kevin O’Keefe say during a webinar in 2010 or 2011, and it stuck with me.”
Know your audience
Think about your potential clients: Do you know their demographics? It’s important to consider your audience before you choose which social media platform to use as a lawyer. If the majority of your colleagues and client base are active on Twitter, for example, it doesn’t make sense to devote all your social media time to Facebook.
Go where the people you want to interact with online are, and you’ll have a better chance of making an impact with social media.
Social networks to consider
With more and more social networks to choose from, it’s worth knowing the basics and refreshing yourself on what’s new with each before you invest your time into maintaining a profile. Depending on factors like your practice area, potential client base, and the type of content you’d like to post, some networks may be better suited to you or your firm than others.
Below, we’ll review the essentials of some of the major social networks to help you select the best fit for you or your law firm.
With 2.38-billion monthly active users, Facebook is the most popular social media platform in the world—and it’s also popular among legal professionals, with overall use of Facebook growing to 63% in 2018, according to the ABA’s 2018 Legal Technology Survey Report.
Some key advantages of Facebook include:
It provides access to a wide audience. Because of the network’s popularity, Facebook allows lawyers to reach a larger audience (which is also why it can be effective to advertise your firm using Facebook).
It offers more opportunities for friend and family referrals. “The average Facebook user has about 120 friends—and these are friends they trust,” says Samantha.
“I see people asking for lawyers via status updates all the time, and people listen to these recommendations because they trust their friends. Beyond that, a wider range of people may see that public question and answer, so the lawyer’s name is seen by a wide range of people.”
A major downside to Facebook for lawyers? Algorithms that prioritize friends-and-family posts in the News Feed mean that it’s more challenging for your posts to be seen and post visibility is on a relatively short timeline.
And, if your social media efforts aren’t being seen, they’re wasting your time.
LinkedIn remains the most popular social media platform among lawyers in the US, according to the ABA’s 2018 Report—with more law firms using LinkedIn than every other platform.
Why is LinkedIn so popular among lawyers?
It’s made for professionals. Because the platform is geared to professionals, LinkedIn is designed to promote your professional persona and build connections with others in the industry, which can be useful for gaining referrals from other lawyers.
It reinforces your experience. In addition to having a polished profile and industry-specific connections, LinkedIn also serves as a platform to establish your professional status among peers and clients by sharing thought-leadership content, joining groups, and engaging in discussion.
It’s important to ensure your LinkedIn profile is an effective reflection of you and your firm. A few tips for a better LinkedIn profile?
- Keep things professional. Use professional photos as your profile picture.
- Be compelling. Take time to write a clear headline, concise summary, and meaningful descriptions of your relevant experience. If you find it difficult to write about yourself, consider hiring a professional writer to help with your profile.
- Stay relevant. Curate your profile to showcase career highlights that are most relevant to your current practice, focus, and goals, so visitors to your page can easily learn about the lawyer you are today.
In addition to using LinkedIn for you as a professional, you can also create a LinkedIn page for your law firm to enhance its persona online (this guide to law firm LinkedIn pages can help).
While Twitter is less common for law firms to use in a professional context (the ABA’s 2018 Report showed only 14% of respondents’ firms maintained a presence on Twitter), it offers some unique benefits for busy legal professionals:
- It’s concise. As a microblogging social media platform, Twitter limits your tweets to a character count of 280—forcing you to stay succinct.
- It’s efficient. As a result, when scrolling your Twitter feed, you can consume highlights and headlines for a wide range of issues in a short period.
- It’s instantaneous. Twitter gives you near-instant updates on news and information you need to know.
If you’re just starting out on Twitter, be sure to follow influential people in your industry—both as a source of social media inspiration, and as a way to stay engaged with people that are tweeting about the issues that are important to you and your clients. Not sure where to begin? Check out this list of the top people in legal to follow on Twitter to get you started.
How to tweet
In order to be effective using Twitter as a lawyer, you’ll want to tweet:
- At the right time. In order to reach the greatest number of followers, research the prime times to tweet for your target audience, or schedule tweets for common downtimes like during lunch or in the early evening.
- Regularly and consistently. Don’t let your professional Twitter page become a ghost-town: Follow a regular tweeting schedule that you can manage so your followers see you in their feed.
- A mix of content. Re-tweet, share articles or links, and—yes—create original tweets. Posting a variety of tweets keeps your feed interesting while saving you time (it only takes an instant to re-tweet).
Though it’s a less common choice for lawyers and law firms, a YouTube channel gives you the opportunity to share video content with subscribers. Video content makes it easy to showcase your personality for viewers, helping people feel they “know you” before they’ve met you—which can make potential clients feel more comfortable.
With this in mind, lawyers, beware: The reverse is also true. If your video content comes across as inauthentic or of low quality, it can turn potential clients away and damage the professional feel of your online reputation. So, before creating a YouTube channel for your firm, ensure that:
- You’re able to make high-quality content. Your production, titles, video quality, and lighting should all look clean and professional.
- You have a strong on-camera personality. If you’re creating videos where you speak to the camera, you should be comfortable being on camera.
- You have something to say. YouTube videos are a great opportunity to convey authority, but be sure your content is interesting (and that it follows ethics rules and guidelines).
Because Instagram is image- and video-centered, it’s important to assess if your practice area agrees with the type of content you can post on the platform. For those in consumer-focused areas of law, it’s a great way to connect on an individual level. For larger firms focused on business clients, Instagram might be better suited to marketing yourself as a great place to work to attract top talent.
If an image-based platform like Instagram feels like a good fit, get creative: Images, graphic design, video stories, and captions are all opportunities to create content that will add value for followers. Use the visual focus of Instagram to reinforce your firm’s branding, colors, and logos.
For many lawyers, Instagram is the platform to use in order to humanize yourself and your firm. Posting content related to your lifestyle, work in the community, and firm life can showcase a positive persona.
Things to remember when maintaining a professional Instagram page as a lawyer?
- Make your content easy to find by using hashtags and location tagging when appropriate (For example, you can location tag yourself in your office.)
- However, be sure that you don’t post images or location tags of when meeting with clients, as that could violate client confidentiality.
- Use thoughtful captions to showcase your personality and knowledge.
- Post high-quality photos that convey a polished, professional image.
- Be extra careful when posting not to violate any ethics guidelines, and never accidentally break confidentiality with your client’s information (For example, don’t post a behind-the-scenes image of your office where client documents are visible on your computer screen).
Other social media options
Feeling social media savvy? While most lawyers seem to stick to the major social media platforms mentioned above, it’s worth considering if other networks may be aligned with your goals. Here are a few options that might fit your needs:
By having a presence on less-common social networks for lawyers—think Snapchat, Pinterest, or Tumblr—you may have a competitive advantage. The caveat? There should be a thoughtful reason behind using a platform. For example, it’s unlikely that a criminal defense attorney will gain new clients through regular posts on TikTok, though they may make an impact by providing general answers to questions on Quora.
Should you turn to the experts?
Just as your clients hire you for your legal expertise, it may be worth hiring a professional to take care of your social media.
While you might be capable of carrying out social media for your law firm, you should also ask yourself if it’s the best use of your time, or if you’ll get greater results from turning to a social media expert—who makes it their job to convert social media into clients.
“If an attorney retains me for social media services, I help them get the most out of social media by saving them time,” Samantha explains. “My services allow lawyers to focus on billable hours rather than on social media.”
Here are a few questions to consider when it comes to hiring help for social media:
- Are you interested and willing to stay up-to-date in the latest changes in social media (for example, sites change things like their image-size requirements and terms of service)?
- Do you know how to (or are you willing to learn) how to track your social media analytics, in order to evaluate what’s working and what isn’t with your strategy?
More than just a fun pastime, social media for lawyers can be a valuable marketing tool when it’s used strategically and you take the time to learn and adhere to ethics rules so you can stay compliant.
Set goals, make a plan, and stick to it—by being consistent and active on social media, you’re more likely to engage with potential clients, and to increase your law firm’s business.