Florida IP Attorney Ethan J. Wall on the Importance of Social Media to the Legal Profession: Part 1, Marketing

Ethan J. Wall is an intellectual property litigator at Richman Greer in Miami, a listee to Florida Rising Stars, and a fan of social media.

As a student of the Meritas Leadership Institute, he recently indulged that curiosity as his class tackled the topic of social media and its importance to the legal profession--both as a marketing tool and in practice. In May, they'll present their findings to Meritas, but Wall offered us a peek.

EthanWall.jpgWhile lawyers are traditionally among the savviest of networkers, Wall says they've been slow to jump into social media--Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter--for the same reason they were slow use TV commercials and online sponsored advertising. "There are special regulations and ethical guidelines that govern attorney advertising. ... So every time that a new type of media emerges, there is uncertainty as to how the existing rules of advertising will apply to this new medium."

Law firms, he adds, "might not see [social media] as a way to generate the type of clients that their firms can best represent." I.e. the big fish.

Finally there's this: "A lot of lawyers really don't know what social media is and how it can practically be used," Walls says.

But some do.

Surveying 400 attorneys across Meritas firms, Wall's class found that individual attorneys, no surprise, are more apt than law firms to use social networking sites to spread the word about their brand and services. Among law firms, solo and small firms, with less red tape, are becoming the pioneers.

And among practice areas? "Family law attorneys, personal injury attorneys, solo and small practitioners," says Wall. It's not surprising. "More people log onto Facebook than any other website in the world-more than Google, as of 2010. So their potential base of clients is on social media," he says.

LinkedIn appears to be the most popular. Of those attorneys surveyed who have social media accounts, a whopping 95.5 percent have a LinkedIn account; 65.3 percent are on Facebook, and 23.3 percent Tweet. Walls believes LinkedIn ranks at the top because it offers less of the "presumed pitfalls" of other social media sites-such as fear of a disgruntled opposing party leaving malicious messages. By design, LinkedIn is a "professional networking site," populated by business leaders.

Wall's preference? "I think Facebook is the best social networking tool to use--if used responsibly and the privacy features are understood," he says. He cites the survey results showing that few of the attorneys who use Facebook have actually experienced pitfalls. "I use it as more of a way to make my referral sources aware of who I am, and what I'm doing, so when they have an issue about how to insert Facebook evidence into their case, or how they can start a law firm page, they're thinking about me. My primary goal is to bring people back to my firm's website," he says.

Of course, social media as a marketing tool isn't for everyone. But, Wall says, "Don't knock it till you try it. ... This is where people are networking now. This is where people are learning from their colleagues: 'What's a good lawyer? What's a good law firm? Who am I going to go to for this particular service?'"

Plus, he adds, "Connecting with other people is what makes the practice of law so enjoyable. I find meaning in my investment of time using social media. ... People will hire people they know, like and trust."

You can follow Wall's own writing on social media and the law at: SocialMediaLawAndOrder.com.

Tomorrow: Part 2: Social media in Practice

--Adrienne Schofhauser