Many years ago at a Finley Kumble partnership meeting a friend wryly commented, ‘We’re tents in the bazaar.’ He was right; each partner operated his/her own mini-firm– setting rates, hustling business, and engaging in non-stop origination disputes. It was by no means a collegial bazaar. Decades later, the Finley Kumble version of ‘partnership’—once anathema to white shoe firms—predominates. But in addition to the ‘bazaar’ that most large law firms are, a broader competitive marketplace also exists. Law firms once dominated the legal vertical, and there was plenty of work to go around. Those days are over. In-house legal departments and legal service providers now combine for nearly half of total legal spend. The ‘tents in the bazaar’ remain, but a new digital marketplace is also emerging. It is changing the way legal services are bought and sold.
The breadth and impact of social media can scarcely be exaggerated. In less than a decade, it has disrupted journalism, influenced global politics, and altered commerce by providing a platform for instantaneous global communication. One big problem: social media does not distinguish between fact and fiction. This has frightening implications that have already surfaced.
It has been forty years since the United States Supreme Court upheld the right of lawyers to advertise in Bates v State Bar of Arizona. The rationale for this seminal case is as significant- and timely- as the ruling: lawyer advertising promotes (affordable) legal access to the general public and improves the overall administration of justice. Even in the 1970’s, the ABA acknowledged the “middle 70% of our population is not being reached or served adequately by the legal profession.”
And many lawyers were thwarting attempts to provide legal service on a more cost-effective, transparent basis.
The Arab Spring not only had a profound impact upon global geopolitics, but it was also a wake-up call for those who thought that “social media” was principally a 21st century dating device or a way to buy socks without venturing to the mall. Social media is now firmly rooted in business and is an integral part of the way a company’s brand is positioned, pitched, and valued. Though, predictably, the legal field has been slower than other verticals to embrace social media, its prevalence has accelerated in recent years. For example, the ABA’s 2014 Legal Technology Report found that: (1) from solo practitioners to BigLaw, well over 90% of lawyers have LinkedIn profiles; (2) Facebook presence is maintained by nearly half of solo practitioners (the percentage declines as firm size increases but is still salient); and (3) conversely, Twitter accounts are more likely to be maintained by larger law firms (36% of firms of 100 or more attorneys) than smaller ones. Its not that lawyers have become Twit-o-philes or that hash tags have replaced “wherefore” in everyday legal practice and parlance, but law firms and lawyers are taking to social media in increasing numbers. How—if at all—is this affecting the legal vertical; how is its impact to be gauged; and what sorts of issues does its widespread use raise?
Suddenly, the Whole World is a Potential Client
Social media presents a grand stage for attorneys, an opportunity for law firms as well as individual lawyers to establish brand differentiation as well as to reach a potentially limitless client audience. This is not only reflected in the ever-rising lawyer participant numbers cited above, but also by the emergence of social media gurus– and even departments– at large law firms. This begs the question: how does a law firm/lawyer gauge ROI on its social media investment? Is this a BigLaw nuclear arms race or, to put it in Palsgraf terms, can social media be the proximate cause of increased PPP? The answer depends, in part, upon what the objectives of the firm are; what it is putting out into the social media community; by whom; as well as the time period for measuring success. [Read more…]