Lawyers in social networking time travel shocker.

8 05 2011

So a bunch of lawyers were caught out by a fake QC twitter account?

The dramaramarama I’ve read from law Tweeps today is hysterical. It’s like they’ve never experienced trolls or flamers before.

Actually judging by their voracious adoption of this ‘new fangled social networking lark’ a good 5 to 10 years after the rest of the population, I’m not surprised.

I’m not wanting to go on too much about the instance of the now infamous legal troll who has had some of the most respected British legal tweeters discussing how this could ever happen to them, but I do wonder how such an educated and allegedly on the ball group of professionals can be so naive as to take virtual connections at face value.

Given the nature of their business and the clients they come into contact with, one would expect a degree of suspicion or at least deliberation from them in any virtual relationship they form.

As an early adopter of all things Internet, I do wonder why something like the legal profession has managed to get so left behind in the online revolution.

Current buzzwords for virtual Jurists include, twitter, blog and SEO. Everyone who is anyone in the world of online law *must* have a twitter, facebook and linkedin account at a minimum, and preferably their own blog too.

It’s like the Internet is a new toy for the profession and instead of appearing to enter into the 21st century in a timeous manner they’re just dipping their toe into it now, 11 years later.

I feel I should warn them that not only will the Millennium bug have no effect on their online presence but it didn’t cause the world outside the office to end back in 1999/2000, when the rest of the business world panicked about it.

And with the adoption of the Internet comes this newfound passion for marketing their business product to the virtual population.

It’s widely accepted that given recent changes to the way in which the public can access legal services, that the profession will have to adapt, but to me having studied marketing a lot over the years, it seems as if they are taking the completely wrong route.

In marketing, targeting your product at the relevant markets is essential for business growth but is law really a product or is it a service? And therein lies a confusion that isn’t adequately addressed outwith the profession.

If it is the latter (a product) then I believe their current product based marketing approach is failing them. If it is a product then a blog and website that looks more suited to a funeral directors probably isn’t the best start. Defining *exactly* what the products being offered should be the priority and as yet, I’ve still to see evidence of what the real product is. To the consuming public, “law” or “all of your legal requirements” just won’t cut it.

While marketing their product, many lawyers end up referring to services they offer and services need a different marketing approach. Services are very much required on an as-needed basis which can be a marketing exec’s nightmare. Trying to make a rarely needed service a desirable must have product takes a lot of time, understanding and target market knowledge.

Lawyers may be great with legislations and legal processes but these things do not a marketing genius make.

I read many legal blogs on law as an industry and what I’m finding is that the content is as vacant as those blogs trying to sell or promote SEO (here’s a tip: it’s all just common sense), yet within the profession they are regarded as a prime tool for engaging with colleagues and clients. The problem is they either read as pure business blogs with copy taken straight from Marketing for Dummies mixed with the local enterprise initiative’s free email newsletter from 2001, or ‘I’m going to pretend this researched piece of Commerce and business know how is in fact my personal experience and observation and I know far more than you can ever hope to.’

Neither is convincing to anyone outwith their circle of professional contacts and it’s certainly not new and interesting to potential clients.

I understand lawyers want to play with their new toys and some are highly popular and successful at doing so but these people tend to focus on things that people within the profession are interested in. This is where the true power of the Internet lies for the legal profession and those that are taking control of the direction of online legal talk, are setting themselves up as institutions.

Armchair marketing and an inane desperation for successful search engine optimisation will not change the view of law and lawyers as only a profession to be visited when needed. Much in the same way people only visit doctors when needed.

This may not be the image the legal profession want to give off to the public but it’s one that is more deep rooted than marketing 101 can help with.

The law profession is changing but it’s not keeping up with technological, business and marketing developments of the rest of the world.

Lawyers and law firms need to gain a better understanding of the power of the Internet as a tool and not as a business model. That bubble burst a long time ago and while some will manage to make their millions with innovative approaches to virtual law, they will be few and far between.

Virtual law needs to mature and fast.

To continue on this track of being 5 years behind the rest of the world in technological advances (and behaviours) could do far more damage to their business and reputations than maintaining a traditional firm with traditional outreach methodologies.

The naïveté or possibly arrogance displayed with the fake QC drama, not so much by those involved, but more by those so shocked it could happen to them and their profession, needs to be addressed and resolved. Legal professionals need to get up to speed with how networking technologies work and they need to understand the pitfalls. The arrogance of the profession in believing they couldn’t attract trolls needs to go and virtual lawyers need to be more aware of how these places work in the real virtual world.

Now if only they would stop creaming themselves at the idea of *cringe* cloud computing, then perhaps all would be well with the world…

And if I could persuade one of these firms to give me a day or two a week of legal work experience over the summer, perhaps we could both benefit…

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