Social media is an indispensable element of many lawyers’ professional as well as personal, lives. The Brief spoke to three senior lawyers to find out how they approach it, and how their practices have benefited as a result.
Much of the current debate around technology focuses on the negative. The recent emergence of ChatGPT and other generative artificial intelligence tools has, for example, provoked as much disquiet as it has excitement.
Contemporary discussion of social media, too, revolves around unethical algorithms, mental health crises, toxically polarised politics and even the manipulation of democratic societies by the agents of hostile states. What is rarely covered by journalists (most of whom, it should be noted, are active on Twitter themselves) is that for most people social media is simply a way of keeping in touch and watching the occasional daft video.
For lawyers it can also be a way of engaging with and attracting clients, business partners, professional peers and potential new recruits or employers.
Look before you leap
Before diving in, though, any professional considering using social media in a business capacity should speak to their line manager and, where relevant, marketing department. They should also familiarise themselves with their business’s social media policy or guidelines, contravention of which could have job-ending consequences.
The social media platforms on which lawyers focus will differ dependent on their practice and the audience with which they wish to engage. For most business-focused lawyers the first port of call will be LinkedIn, while those who deal with the public might concentrate on Facebook and/or Instagram.
Twitter straddles both camps, and should certainly be on the radar of media lawyers. Professionals who want to engage with younger audiences might also consider video-sharing platforms like TikTok.
The Brief spoke to three lawyers who are active on social media about how it has benefited their practice.
The corporate lawyer
Tessa Laws is a corporate partner at London-based Acuity Law, a firm she joined after merging her own practice, newlawslegal, into it in 2018. She has engaged actively with social media in a professional capacity for more than ten years, focusing in particular on LinkedIn.
She says, “I think LinkedIn is a professional platform – more appropriate for my work as a lawyer than Instagram or Facebook. The data mining is efficient: I can use it to research potential clients and industries effectively, and I like the groups they offer from a work perspective.
“The knowledge dissemination works well, and I can reverse engineer for industries I focus on.”
She tailors her posts, she says, depending on the target audience: “If I am working on media M&A I will tag media groups, and if I am launching a new work channel I will tag the appropriate groups or companies.”
Using social media has, she says, benefited her practice “enormously.”
“LinkedIn gives me a public voice and a way of letting people know my specialisms, my expertise and the deals I have done. People connect with me globally, and I have won work via it.”
This work, she explains, includes solar power companies based outside the UK looking for legal support with investment deals, as well as lawyers from other jurisdictions approaching her because they need “UK feet on the ground”.
The family expert
Naheed Taj, head of family law at City of London-headquartered Lawrence Stephens, focuses in particular on Instagram. Her @topfamilylawyer account has almost 3,000 followers, and she has, she says, received a substantial number of referrals as a result of social media activity.
She explains, “Since first starting my Instagram account during the pandemic, I have received a lot of work through social media. The nature of these platforms has allowed me to show a different side to my business and engage potential clients in a completely unique way.
“With my accounts, I like to share personal stories and offer practical but empathetic advice. Being unafraid to share my emotions and speak about my story, and the stories of those around me, is something I feel a lot of people engage with."
The nature of her work as a family lawyer means she also has to be particularly careful to ensure the anonymity of people whose stories she shares. “My clients and my followers value a strong bond of trust,” she says.
“A lot of people get in touch with me to share their thoughts and stories, and I always want to be there to listen and share their experience, with the utmost discretion."
Easier to lose clients than gain them
She also sounds a note of caution about the tone and subject matter of social media activity – highlighting the risks for professionals who convey an inappropriate image: “While Instagram and LinkedIn can be fantastic tools to build your brand and business, it’s often easier to lose potential clients through social media than it is to gain them.
“In my experience, the biggest pitfall for lawyers using social media is a lack of consciousness as to what they are posting and how this reflects on them in a professional capacity."
Beyond this, she says, her advice to lawyers using social media is to “be consistent”.
“Building a strong presence on social media can take a lot of time and a lot of work and, while many lawyers may struggle to find the time to maintain accounts during periods of heavy workload, posting regular quality content is the key to building your brand and business online,” she concludes.
The digital and media specialist
Steve Kuncewicz, who recently took up the position of partner and head of creative, digital and marketing at Manchester-headquartered Glaisyers ETL, has been an active voice on social media for more than a decade. He was also one of the first lawyers to build a practice focused on the law relating to social media.
He tells The Brief, “I’m a geek to begin with, and was active on social media in a personal capacity long before I built it into my practice. At the time there weren’t many solicitors who were doing so, and I’ve been very lucky to learn a great deal from interacting with other users and their content.
The main platforms on which he is active are Twitter and LinkedIn, he says, although he also uses Facebook. “If I’m going to post anything, then it usually needs to work across all three platforms wherever possible, but engagement tends to be higher on LinkedIn,” he says.
He also acknowledges, though, that the way LinkedIn has developed in recent years is not to everyone’s taste: “I think it’s fair to say it is viewed as having become on the one hand a little too personal in terms of the content that users post and too salesy in that you’re likely to receive many more ‘cold’ approaches than previously.”
In general, he says, social media has been of “huge benefit” to his practice. “I absolutely have won, and continue to gain, clients through social media,” he continues.
“It’s also an invaluable source of news, even though you have to pick your sources carefully, and it is absolutely essential to telling the story of who you are and what you do. It’s an ecosystem with its challenges, but also a wide-open space for lawyers to build their own personal brand as well as enhance that of their firm.”
One of the biggest challenges for anyone using social media professionally, Kuncewcz says, is remaining relevant.
“It isn’t easy, but I think the most important part is having something to say which your followers will find interesting or useful,” he continues. “Attracting attention to begin with can be easier than holding your followers’ interest, but as long as your posts align with your values and the topics that you want to be seen to be associated with, and you make sure you post and engage in conversation regularly, then it’s by no means impossible.”
He also echoes Taj’s point about maintaining regular activity: “If you’re lucky enough to build a community, however small, that sees value in your content, then you can’t afford to neglect it for long periods of time, as someone else will step into the void you leave.”
Unwise tweeting can also have serious professional consequences, he points out: “The SRA has taken action against several solicitors in the recent past over their online activity, so there’s an obvious regulatory risk in social media engagement, but I think the biggest risk is the fact that the web and social media have a long memory.
“Tweeting in haste may leave you repenting at leisure, and presenting a personal brand that doesn’t align with the experience that your followers have when interacting with you in real life will leave them doubting your authenticity. What you post or share is who you are, and keeping that in mind is hugely important.
“Know who you and your followers are, and embrace the opportunity, but do so with care and realism and stay professional whilst retaining a sense of humour,” he concludes. “No pressure, then!”