26 Apr 2012

Connect and survive

Social media is not just a place for people to share their holiday snaps or keep up with celebrity gossip, says Chrissie Lightfoot. Business lawyers need to get chatting and tweeting or risk extinction

Chrissie Lightfoot: social media addict

I’m guilty. Guilty beyond reasonable doubt of having an addiction – of being a social media, social networking, social savvy junkie.
And I’m here to defend my case against the cynics who continually persecute and ridicule me and my fellow junkies in the misguided belief that social media is a fad, a trend – a charade even.
How many times have I and fellow travellers had to listen politely to the smug bluster of middle-aged know-alls pompously promulgating the argument that the beneficiaries of social media are limited to dysfunctional teenagers who have lost the ability to communicate by traditional human means, or fading ‘celebrities’ who are trying to generate some temporary public interest in their near-forgotten careers?
Countless times, is the answer. But I submit that we lawyers – and all those working in our law firms – mustn’t be prejudiced by the blinkered views of the frightened or lazy. Instead we should embrace the extraordinary benefits of social media. Why? Because of the simple and practical business phenomenon of the ‘survival of the savviest’.

Joining the dots

Let’s join these dots: global economic crisis, emerging economies, increased competition, population and employment time bombs, stretched resources (economic, physical, environmental), artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, genetics, social networking, the evolution of web 2.0 to 4.0, runaway technological acceleration, working patterns and lifestyle change, consumer sovereignty, spoilt-for-choice clients, too many ‘fat’ law firms, too many lawyers and increasing moves to dispense with lawyers at every level.
In the contemporary business environment, there are only three kinds of lawyer: unemployed, relatively low-paid assembly line workers and top-end super-lawyers. The third category is populated by those with the ability continually to generate income through attracting, relating to and serving clients in the space they occupy for play and work. In other words, cyber-space – social media and social networks.
At the beginning of the 21st century, the American inventor, scientist and futurist Ray Kurzweil predicted that by 2010 computers would ‘become essentially invisible – woven into our clothing, embedded in our furniture and environment’. He said they would tap into the ‘world-wide mesh’ and that we’d have wireless internet communication at all times. He was right, as the widespread adoption of smart ‘phones and tablets for both work and leisure demonstrates. And in 2010, Facebook wunderkind Mark Zuckerberg said ‘over the next five years or so, social networking will make it possible to pick any industry and rethink it’.

Playground and office

So let’s consider the legal profession. Because of the ubiquity of the worldwide web and the internet in business, not even the traditionally conservative legal sector has been able to ignore it. Social media has become an integral part of that environment – it is evolving into our 21st-century playground and office space; there are some 1.2 billion active users on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Google+ – totalling a sixth of the world’s population.
Law firm clients, prospective clients, competitors, friends and family use social media. If lawyers do not engage they are going to be excluded from the globally networked society and collaborative community. They will feel ostracised because they will be ignorant of the context in which the seven vices – wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy and gluttony – are now played out on line. As lawyers, if we hope to represent clients – whether in contentious or non-contentious matters – we’re going to have to understand and empathise with them in the space they frequent.
Social media is a medium through which we can interact on a more personal level with contacts, show-case our professional accomplishments, expand our knowledge, amplify our core messages, start and monitor conversations, find potential customers, carry out public relations, manage our (brand) reputations and provide extraordinary client service by satisfying the expectations of our customers in ‘real-time’. 
With social media, a little effort can produce a return of a four, five, or even six-figure instruction, reaching a potential annual seven-figure revenue from social networking activity alone. With potential numbers like those, why wouldn’t we use social media?
The bottom line is that being a successful lawyer in the 21st century requires being sociable in 21st-century media. Lawyers who use the free social media streams will have a higher survival rate. And that’s why, all things considered, I’m happy confessing my guilt as a social savvy junkie. The defence rests.

Chrissie Lightfoot is the chief executive of legal consultancy EntrepreneurLawyer and author of the book ‘The Naked Lawyer: RIP to XXX – how to market, brand and sell you!’