Results of the Indiana State Bar Association’s social media survey are in, and they show what many lawyers already know: social media is becoming a larger part of daily life.
About 2,000 people – roughly 20 percent of members – responded to the ISBA survey, with 500 of them stating that they are using social media more often and becoming more comfortable with it.
The survey included several questions about how members use social media. Listing eight social media platforms – Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Myspace, YouTube, Foursquare, Google+ and blogs – the survey asked members to note which social media platforms they used and for what purpose. Not all members noted how they use all social media. The majority of survey respondents reported preferring Facebook for personal use and LinkedIn for professional use. Of the 1,038 people who responded about Twitter, 26.2 percent reported having a personal Twitter account. Of those who responded about YouTube, 743 reported using YouTube for personal use. The majority of respondents said they were not familiar with the social media platform Foursquare, which allows users to check-in virtually at locations.
Séamus Boyce, an attorney for Church Church Hittle and Antrim who chairs the state bar’s public relations committee, said he was pleased to see that nearly 70 percent of survey respondents reported using social media to some extent.
“It’s pretty clear that social media has become an important issue in just a typical Indiana lawyer’s life, and I think the state bar thinks that’s a trend that’s going to continue,” he said.
Some cautionary tales exist about how not to use social media. Lawyers may remember that earlier this year, an Indiana deputy attorney general was fired after making inflammatory comments on Twitter. And with nearly 43 percent of ISBA survey respondents saying their firm has no policies about social media use, attorneys may be on their own when it comes to figuring out what to say – and what not to say – on social media platforms.
Seth Wilson, an attorney with Hume Smith Geddes Green & Simmons, said attorneys would be wise to think about the large audience social networks have. As assistant director of the International Legal Technical Standards Organization, he has researched ethical concerns associated with technology use.
“Use your head. If your clients have given you their informed consent to broadcast their news to the world, and you’ve got that in writing, you might be OK. But, just use your head – the biggest thing is common sense,” he said.
Wilson said attorneys need to be cautious about accidentally disclosing client information on social media platforms and making statements that could be construed as advertising.
“It’s a rule of reasonableness, but part of it is, hey, I’m informing the world of what I do and it can’t be tied back to a particular client, I’m just commenting about my work,” he said. But if an attorney posts on Facebook that he just left a hearing, that statement could potentially be construed as saying too much.
“The biggest question is – do I want to be a test case for making that comment and finding out what happens?”
Boyce has a Twitter account – @SchoolCounsel, which he uses to post about legal issues in education. “We don’t have any formal policy – it’s not discouraged. I think that is our policy,” he said. “Being chair of the PR committee, I felt like I had to at least utilize it.”
Boyce said he anticipates a decrease in the number of firms without social media policies. Developing policies, Wilson said, may help firms manage their own reputations online and help keep attorneys out of trouble.
“As our world continues to grow connected, the lines between what’s firm, what’s personal and what’s private life continue to blur, so I think just having some clear guidelines for that can help the firm establish that what we’re doing – what that attorney is doing – is reasonable,” Wilson said.
The ISBA is already ahead of the curve nationally, Boyce believes, in its understanding and use of social media. It has an interactive Facebook page and features on its website online discussion groups for members. Boyce said the PR committee will work with the bar’s other committees to explore how social media could be used. And the committee recently held its first Continuing Legal Education seminar on the topic of social media, bringing in a representative from the American Bar Association to present on the topic.
Whether Facebook and Twitter will emerge as a successful marketing tool for law firms remains to be seen, but Wilson wonders how effective such marketing strategies would be.
“What you find as a lawyer looking at Twitter is other lawyers, and I’m not always in the market to go hire another lawyer,” he said. •