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Lawyers, Get On The Social Media Train Before It Leaves The Station

September 12, 2009

Reprinted from Silicon Valley/San Jose Business Journal

Lawyers find a new following via Twitter

Silicon Valley / San Jose Business Journal – by William-Arthur Haynes

Fenwick & West corporate attorney Cindy Hess uses social networking tools to “understand the business that many of my clients are touching and are in.”

Lawyers, often partial to the herd mentality, are beginning to embrace social networking and are noticing some returns.

Cutting-edge legal practitioners say they are using social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn in three main ways: to market themselves, to better communicate with clients and to gain an understanding of their clients’ business relationships.

Glenn Manishin, an antitrust, telecommunications and technology policy litigator at Duane Morris LLP, has been involved in social media “on an intensive basis” for more than two years and said he finds it to be an extremely valuable tool to develop client relationships and his reputation. At least half a dozen clients have retained him based upon getting to know him through social media.

“I have clients and potential clients that never e-mail me any more; they only send me direct messages through Twitter,” he said.

Peter Townshend and Cindy Hess, attorneys who orbit the technology community and represent startups, say attorneys risk being labeled “old school” or out of the loop if they don’t use social networks.

“I use these tools and services to understand the business that many of my clients are touching and are in,” said Hess, a corporate attorney at Fenwick & West LLP.

Hess counsels emerging companies on venture capital financing and mergers and acquisitions, and she represents companies and underwriters in public offerings.

Hess said her initial reason for adopting Facebook and Twitter was because of the firm’s representation.

“It makes a lot of sense to understand the business your clients are in to the extent that you can,” Hess said. “We don’t always have an opportunity to be consumers of our clients’ products and services. It’s nice to have personal connection to what our clients are doing.”

And the personal can overlap with the professional.

“It’s a fantastic way to keep up with clients on a personal level — to know what’s going on with their lives,” said Townshend, a corporate, private equity and emerging companies partner at McDermott Will & Emery LLP.

Many of these sites are household names whether or not you tweet, have a profile or have built up a robust roster of “friends.” Using — or not using — these technologies can say a lot about a businessperson, said law firm public relations consultant Elizabeth Lampert.

The cities with the biggest Twitter populations, for instance, are New York, Los Angeles, Toronto, San Francisco and Boston, said Lampert, president of Elizabeth Lampert Public Relations.

“It would be foolish to not have at least a presence on these sites where so many people are paying attention,” Lampert said. “These sites are a great way for law firms to follow their clients and competitors.”

This is true particularly for technology-related businesses, Manishin said.

“If you’re not involved in social media now, you’re definitely behind the 8-ball because it is so much the rage,” he said. “It’s something that can and should be embraced. Now, whether or not you do it successfully depends upon how much time you devote to it and whether you understand the culture.”

Because lawyers are trained to avoid risk from the beginning, attorneys and law firms are slow to adapt to change. As a result, Townshend said he’s enjoying a comparative advantage.

“I’m happy my competitors are slow, and I would love their firms to adopt dumb policies about forbidding use of social networks,” he said. “The temptation is to adopt don’t-use-it policies without thinking about the client benefit. It’d be great for me if that was adopted because they obviously don’t understand the technology and completely whiff on the marketing opportunity.”

Neither McDermott, Fenwick nor Duane Morris have fashioned specific guidance on the use of social media.

“There’s an unspoken policy that this is a public medium and just as though you were out there in any context, you’re expected to conduct yourself in an appropriate way,” Hess said.

William-Arthur Haynes can be reached at 408.299.1829 or

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