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Why Fewer Firms Are Blocking Attorney Access To Social Media

According to a recent report by Gartner, Inc., “Fewer than 30 percent of large organizations will block employee access to social media sites by 2014, compared with 50 percent in 2010.” Gartner further notes that “[t]he number of organizations blocking access to all social media is dropping by around 10 percent a year.” Indeed, in my own experience, it is not uncommon to discover firms that block access to all social media sites. Nonetheless, in a day and age in which attorneys across the world are discovering the power of social media in generating leads and developing one’s professional reputation, it is a policy that seems outdated and potentially adverse to a growing firm’s best interests.

As we’ve recently discussed, Facebook is a fantastic site for developing and maintaing both personal and professional relationships. These relationships can lead to referrals and can be used to enhance an attorney’s professional reputation. We’ve also previously considered how Twitter can be used to enhance one’s professional reputation, discover new information, and network with colleagues and potential clients. Similarly, LinkedIn allows attorneys to build their professional network, and blogging allows attorneys to demonstrate their professional competence and knowledge. If the attorneys at your firm are loyal to your firm and plan to stay long term, these connections will ultimately benefit the firm. Even if they don’t remain with the firm long term, they may provide later value by referring business back to you in the future. If you are worried about them poaching clients, remember that they don’t need access to LinkedIn or Facebook to do that (both of which they can access when they return home in the evening anyways).

Furthermore, social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn aren’t just great networking resources, they are also great places to discover important information. Other professionals frequently use those sites to promote blog posts, websites, and information that promotes overall professional enrichment. But even beyond “general professional enrichment,” attorneys can use each of those sites to perform investigation benefiting their specific cases by checking out profiles of witnesses, opposing counsel, and opposing parties.

Conversely, there are few good reasons for firms to block access to social media. For example, although some might object that access to social media could potentially diminish productivity, it’s also true that individuals are rarely at a loss for potential distractions with or without social media. It’s also true that most attorneys work for firms with billable hour requirements. If an attorney is spending too much time on Facebook or Twitter, they’ll normally have to compensate by working longer hours and leaving the office later in the day. Moreover, any attorney with access to a smart phone or iPad with 3G access can easily circumvent policies prohibiting use of social media sites. If you are worried about the attorneys at your firm misusing these sites and sharing confidential information, it would be better policy to educate your associates as to social media best practices and the potential pitfalls of misuse of these sites.

Perhaps, as importantly, if you want attorneys who act and think like professionals, you have to treat them like professionals. Indeed, I’d argue that failing to treat an associate like a professional discourages them from acting like one, breeds resentment and diminishes loyalty, and ultimately makes them a less valuable asset to your practice. Besides, if you can’t trust them, maybe you don’t want them working for your office in the first place.

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2 Comments

  1. Peter Quintana says:

    This is a reasoned and rational argument, and whilst I completely agree with the sentiment, and especially the statements in the last paragraph, it is still the case that a company is responsible for what its staff say on social media sites. Therefore, before they can relax, they must come up with appropriate wording in their contracts or terms of employment to protect their – and their staff’s – interests.

    • Matthew Hickey says:

      Peter, that is a great point you raise. I’d say that should be a part of the best practices training that firms should provide to associates using social media.