Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Should Lawyers Facebook Their Clients?

I always balked at using Facebook. I didn't care who Becky was dating or that you planned to spend the afternoon shopping for curtains with your wife.  I disliked getting "poked" or getting requests to provide plants for virtual gardens.  Truth be told, I was too busy with my law practice. I was more concerned about getting out of court in time to make it to McDonald's before they stopped serving breakfast. Nevertheless, my wife signed me up as a way to get back in touch with old friends.  I jumped on the Facebook bandwagon.

In my status updates, I began posting things like "in Hartford Superior Court today" or "doing a commercial closing today at 5."  Although a bit pretentious, my various updates reminded friends and family what I did for a living. "Hey Baron, I hear you are a lawyer now.  Do you do real estate closings, can you help prepare a will for my mom, I ran over the neighbor's cat - any chance you do criminal defense work?"  For my small practice, the increase in clients was a godsend.  People I hadn't seen in years began referring friends and family to my law practice. I began seeing my client base grow.

I guess it's really no surprise.  Facebook is the most used social network on the planet.  As of January 2011, the site counts 600 million active users in its ranks. For many Americans, checking your Facebook page has been as common a ritual as your morning coffee. The service is free and is an easy way to keep in contact with multiple people throughout the world.  So why would you ignore this important marketing tool?  Well, there may be a few reasons.

There are some pictures your 
clients just shouldn't see.
Should Lawyers Facebook Their Clients?
It's difficult to maintain a professional demeanor when your college roommate posts a Spring Break picture of you doing a keg stand in Cancun or a photo of you eating the world's largest grinder.  (that's a hero, sub, wedge-to our non Connecticut friends).  Probably, not something you want your clients to see. There are also privacy concerns.  Do I really want my clients knowing my friends and family?
Do I want them seeing my vacation pics. While it's good to be friendly, I believe a certain level of professionalism needs to be kept.  Cross the line and suddenly your bill is too high.  Your judgment starts getting called into question. Calling you at home is no longer a problem.  We're friends right?  Keep it friendly but professional.

I posed the question to Ben Shorr, the CEO of Roland Shorr.  Ben has spent the last two decades helping attorneys get the most out of modern technology.  (Editor's note: you may want to check out what his company has to offer.)  Ben reminded me that clients who have pending projects sometimes think you should have no other interest but them until the conclusion of their project and it can cause hard feelings (no matter how unreasonable) for them to discover that you're taking your wife to dinner or attending a sporting event instead of working all night working on their thing."  Like many professionals, Schorr relies on Linked In for his business contacts.

Although I also use Linked In, it didn't really work for a certain portion of my client base. Many of my clients were not professionals.  They had no need for Linked In. They were truck drivers, college kids and stay at home moms.  Despite the various age groups, all of them used Facebook. To avoid problems, I created a private invite only Facebook page for my clients. Within a few weeks, we had 200 members sign up.  I used the page much like a newsletter.  Clients were informed of upcoming seminars, additions to staff and other firm news.  Clients could also "friend" my Atty Baron account.  My status updates included where I was going to be in court that day or that I was at a real estate closing.  Each month I answer a generic legal question that I would forward to the group.  My profile picture is of me sitting at my desk in a suit. I leave it up to the client to "friend me."   I call it my "Iolta" Facebook account.  Strictly for business.  No intermingling with my personal account.

Another thing to remember is just because it's on Facebook doesn't mean you are not creating an attorney-client relationship.  Take care to not dole out advice or give the impression that you will look into a matter.  Be careful what you say in your posts.  You don't want to do an update that says "went to court with a real idiot client today" only to forget that the idiot is on your list of friends.

Facebook can be another great tool in your marketing efforts.  And its free.  Just take care with how you use it. And always check your local bar rules.


Anonymous said...

So can I post this to my Facebook page?

Adrian M. Baron said...

Of course. I encourage it. But not myspace. Myspace is for lunatics lol

Film Co. Lawyer said...

Well, this is an interesting quandary if you're working in the entertainment field. In my job, creativity is a huge plus. I'm also a very private person despite having done extra work, getting solicited for acting work, doing performances, etc. Being up on technology is also mandatory in my experience.

Most younger entertainment lawyers I know definitely have an online presence. The ones with creative backgrounds definitely don't write boring, mundane status updates. I think it's different if you work for someone else vs. a solo or lawyer getting creative opportunities (there, you get to make your own rules).

When I've had strangers friend me, I always tell them that I'm opinionated & they may not agree w/everything I say. Those who are overly sensitive or would complain about me having 1st Amendment rights are told to stick to LinkedIn since my creative identity is such an asset to my entertainment work. In fact, the CEO of my film company is one of my biggest champions & supporters of my creative identity.

Facebook does have privacy controls, by the way. People should use them; they're great when you have to worry about reputation Nazis, grammar Nazis or anyone else who spends far too much time obsessing over your profile while not minding their own.

I personally think most social networking profiles are eventually going to be boring & vanilla with all these stories of employer firings & investigations (I'll save that soapbox speech for another day). How about you?

Jack D. said...

I maintain a separate facebook account for clients as well. Best of both worlds