Lawyers Finally Realizing Importance of Social Media…But Is It Too Little, Too Late?

Ignoring social media simply isn’t an option for lawyers, reports the New York Times. Social media’s reach is no longer confined to tangential, “soft” aspects of law practice like networking or marketing but now infiltrates the courtroom, jurors and our clients’ lives with the potential to determine the outcome of the cases we handle. As I blogged over at MyShingle last month, a lawyer’s irresponsible use of social media can lead to a mistrial and job termination. With so much on the line, it’s not surprising that my Social Media for Lawyers  co-author Nicole Black observed that “There is almost hysteria among the lawyers to understand [social media] and how it’s affecting their practice.”

While I’m glad that lawyers are finally realizing that they’re behind the curve, my concern is that they won’t take the time to use social media so that they can understand it firsthand.

Instead, lawyers may outsource social media related tasks – such as mining Facebook for evidence of adultery in a family law case – to unskilled investigators or low level personnel who aren’t familiar with ethics rules. Thus, they might try to “fake friend” an adverse party or recommend that clients delete incriminating posts, both of which violate ethics rules and laws governing preservation of evidence. Just as lawyers have outsourced Internet marketing with negative results, they may do the same when it comes to use of social media at trial.

In short, there aren’t any shortcuts to lawyers getting their hands dirty when it comes to social media. Before you outsource an investigation or ask a new lawyer to blog or tweet, you’ve got to try it yourself – either as a user (e.g., an active blogger or Tweeter) or at least a participant (e.g., a blog reader or passive Twitter follower).

Unless lawyers take the time to understand how social media works, they won’t use social media ethically or effectively – which is too bad for their clients, because many other lawyers will.

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