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It’s been said that “you can’t use smoke signals to do philosophy.” The limitations of the form, like blankets and wood, exclude the complicated and lengthy content that philosophy requires. So can you use social media to do law?
It’s hard to overestimate the value that the internet and its myriad methods of communication bring to the practice of law. Still, it happens a lot. Lawyers and firms are told that if they don’t embrace social media, the world will leave them behind. But besides imposing an almost unbearable amount of drama on each and every tweet, these promises are far from reality and far from real law.
The truth is that lawyers are using social media, but not extensively. Because the place where the law and social media meet is still the Wild West, full of change and ambiguity, most companies are using it just for marketing. That might make sense at the corporate or firm level, considering the risks they face.
There is a lot that you, personally, have to gain professionally by using social media. It is a suite of tools that can benefit you in direct ways. It’s not about inevitable titanic change or urgent little pitfalls. This is about picking a smart and careful path to becoming a better lawyer. Let’s look at some smart and careful steps you can start with.
The 2012 In-House Counsel New Media Engagement Survey pointed out how more in-house counsel are turning to blogs for industry information and ideas. These blogs are written by seasoned professionals and peers—strong sources for further knowledge and a broader understanding of different topics.
The advantage of digital publishing in this case is clearly speed, and this has already been realized in digital research and referencing tools for law professionals. But where do you find the information you didn’t expect? That’s where social media avenues such as blogs can help. Online, new court decisions or rules can be announced and discussed the same day, allowing lawyers to stay on top of new developments. The current state of the economy also means that blogs are cheaper than your typical law periodical, and can often focus much more narrowly than a paid publication can afford to. Once you find a blog that you like, check out the other blogs that it links to—consider it a friendly, social recommendation.
You can use social media to spend less time at your computer. Instead of sifting through the high-pressure, high-volume content of the online world yourself, you can get some help. Social and professional networks like Twitter, LinkedIn, and forums can be a source of experts who carefully filter out a lot of the noise.
Find prominent thought leaders in your field and look at what they are sharing. There are a lot more of them than you think. For example, if you are interested in international patents, or securities law, environmental law, or even toxic torts, there are great resources out there for you. By focusing on a select group of tested sources, you will have less to read, and it will be chosen with a much more personal and trusted touch.
Law, more than most other professions, thrives on information and informed debate. When it comes to presenting information and supporting debate among multiple participants simultaneously, the internet is a natural talent. Connections and relationships can be sustained online and built into informal communities. When asked about how social media had affected his work, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy said that “the law lives in the consciousness of the people” and that increased discussion of the law is a good thing.
If you are ready to make the move from listening to contributing, you should carefully pick a community to join. In an informal online community, members get responses from domain professionals from anywhere, increasing your exposure to new ideas and solutions. And if the community is part of a forum, LinkedIn, or Twitter, the turnaround time for questions and answers is greatly reduced, potentially accelerating your professional growth and development. If you aren’t sure about the responses you’re getting, the rest of the community can jump in with additional insights, evidence, and verification.
Instead of thinking of social media as a “paradigm shift” or “revolution,” think of it as a smart extension of what you are already doing. If you need to keep up with new cases, Twitter can help you do that. If you need a second opinion on a case interpretation, there might be a LinkedIn community or forum for that. The internet and social media are all about information and communication, two things at the very heart of what lawyers do.
By understanding and using the tools available, you’ll have little other option than to become a better lawyer. Maybe that’s the best place to start. You can leave the rest to someone else for now.
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