Navigating social media can be murky territory for lawyers, especially in regards to ethics. But using it as a communication and marketing tool could make the payoff worth it. In this episode of The Florida Bar Podcast, hosts Christine Bilbrey and Karla Eckardt talk to Ethan Wall about how lawyers can use social media efficiently and ethically to promote their practice. For those hesitant to invest the time in social media, they share tips like separating your professional and personal accounts, focusing on the most relevant channels rather than trying to tackle all of them, and buying domains related to your practice even if you don’t plan on using them.
Ethan Wall is a social media law attorney, author, professor, consultant, and keynote speaker in Miami, Florida.
The Florida Bar Podcast
Tips for Ethically Using Social Media Marketing
Intro: Welcome to The Florida Bar Podcast, where we highlight the latest trends in law office and law practice management to help you run your law firm, brought to you by The Florida Bar’s Practice Resource Institute. You are listening to Legal Talk Network.
Christine Bilbrey: Hello and welcome to The Florida Bar Podcast brought to you by Legal Fuel, the Practice Resource Center of The Florida Bar on Legal Talk Network. We are so glad you are joining us. This is Christine Bilbrey, I’m a Senior Practice Management Advisor and one of the hosts for today’s show, which is being recorded from our offices in Tallahassee, Florida.
Karla Eckardt: Hello. I’m Karla Eckardt. I’m also a Practice Management Advisor at The Florida Bar, and a co-host of today’s podcast. Our goal at the Practice Resource Center is to assist Florida attorneys with running the business side of their law practices, and every month, we’ll be focusing on a different topic and carry that theme throughout our newsletter and website with related tips and articles.
Christine Bilbrey: So this month our topic is Social Media for Lawyers, and we have a special guest today. Joining us is attorney Ethan Wall. Ethan is the Founder and President of Social Media Law & Order, a company designed to educate, train and consult on everything related to social media in the law.
He received his JD from Nova Southeastern University in 2007 and is an adjunct professor there. He is also the President of Ethan Wall, P.A., a social media Internet and intellectual property law firm in Miami. Ethan has authored several books including the ‘Social Media Guide for Lawyers’, a legal guide on how lawyers can practically, ethically, and effectively use social media in their practice.
He also writes the Social Media Law & Order blog about the effect of Facebook, Twitter and other social media on the law.
So, Ethan is also going to be heading up our brand-new LegalFuel Speaker Series. So he has already recorded a CLE for Florida Bar members, about everything they should be thinking about with social media.
And so, Ethan, I want you to tell our listeners about yourself and how you came to focus on social media on the law.
Ethan Wall: Absolutely. Thanks so much for having me, Christine. So, I decided to focus on social media and the law about ten years ago. I noticed that so many attorneys were using social media but there weren’t any rules for the road of how we can use it to help our practice or achieve our business development or even our life goals.
And so, I decided to focus my practice exclusively on the effect of social media on the law, with a focus on how attorneys can attract more clients using social media, how we can use evidence in our cases and be more knowledgeable so that we can grow in our practice and career. And so, the program that we started with this year with LegalFuel was how to grow your practice and career using social media.
Karla Eckardt: That’s right. Thank you so much for that and we look forward to watching that CLE very soon.
In your book, the ‘Social Media Guide for Lawyers’, you discussed how lawyers’ personal and professional identities intersect on social media, so do you separate your personal and professional social media accounts and should other lawyers consider doing that as well?
Ethan Wall: I do and I absolutely recommend that other lawyers do so as well. So, let’s face it. What we do out in the real world and what we do on social media is now one of the same, meaning how our reputation carries over on our Facebook pages, is going to result in how people think about us in the courtroom, in the board’s room or at Florida Bar business meetings.
And so, I do think that it’s important that everyone have a social media presence but that we have our personal social media profiles, where we primarily engage with our friends and our followers in a way that focuses on our social lives and also our professional social media accounts, meaning ones for our law firm where we can use them for business development to promote our practice areas or the wonderful things that we’re doing in the community.
And I don’t mean that we shouldn’t talk about business on our personal profiles or not talk about personal things on our business profiles; at the end of the day, people hire folks that they know, like and trust. And so having that right plan is important but having two different profiles that serve two different purposes is really a best practice for just about any lawyer regardless of your firm size, your practice area or your unique goals for using social media.
Christine Bilbrey: And so, I think that we assume that everyone nowadays is out there on social media. But, I know that there’s a lot of attorneys that aren’t and aren’t very comfortable with this. We have a whole age span, experience span. So, if someone does not have any presence on social media and they want to jump in, do you typically recommend that they have someone manage their social media accounts?
Ethan Wall: I don’t recommend that people who are new to social media necessarily have someone manage their accounts. And the reason why I say that is let’s say that you’ve been practicing law for 35 years and you’re just starting to use Facebook for the first time. If we hire let’s say a millennial to run our social media account, it’s possible that they might communicate in a way that doesn’t match who we are or what our brand is all about because let’s face it.
They grew up with the iPhone in their hands, they know how to use technology and it might not be a reflection of how we might communicate. Instead, I think the better place to start is to say, what’s my goal for using social media in the first place? And then talk to someone who has experience using social media that can help guide you on where is a good place to start, because for some of us, using a professional online profile like LinkedIn might be the right choice.
But others of us, if we just want to use social media to connect with old friends and people from college, Facebook might be the right tool for us. So, I think it all starts with figuring out, what do we want to accomplish with our practice and then how can social media help us use it, and then to speak with someone on what’s the best way for me to get started on social media?
So you want to be careful about just say, hey, someone else, you do it because we might not know if that person is using it in a way that’s consistent with how we might communicate on social media. And it’s also possible that they might run afoul with the legal advertising ethics rules just because they simply don’t know what to look out for when they are communicating or connecting with people online.
Christine Bilbrey: So, you bring up an excellent point. What are some of those issues regarding Bar rules and ethics that attorneys should be aware of when they decide to use social media to promote themselves?
Ethan Wall: The biggest takeaway that someone can have is to know that your social media profiles, whether you use them for business or personal reason is likely governed by all of the legal advertising ethics rules or just all of the rules regulating the Florida Bar for that matter.
Back in 2013, the Florida Bar released its guidelines for social networking and there was a caveat in the guidelines that said, if you use your social media profile solely for personal reasons then it may not be governed by the legal advertising ethics rules. But in reality, I find that there’s almost no way that someone might use social media in a way that wouldn’t at least indicate that they’re a lawyer or that they work for a particular law firm or that shows that they practice law so much so that I just say, it’s so important to assume that your profiles must comply with the rules.
So, if we think about it from that mindset that my personal Facebook page, Twitter account, Instagram, everything that I say on there, everything that I do has to be compliant with the Bar rules. I think that we’re going to be a little bit more careful as to what we share, who we connect with and how we use it.
So, that’s a great starting point. And it’s not meant to overwhelm you to say, oh my gosh, I shouldn’t use social media because I’m governed by the rules because if that was the case, I wouldn’t practice law because that’s governed by the rules too. So, I know that we can do it but one rule just to kind of throw out there, is that we’ve got to be careful who we connect with.
So, if we are litigators we likely have opposing parties and witnesses that we shouldn’t be friends with on social media because it could violate, for example, the rule against contacting a represented party. But sometimes, we might have been opposing parties’ email address as part of our database and when we connect our LinkedIn profile with our email and we aren’t careful about importing all of our contacts into LinkedIn, it’s possible that we might send the connection request to an opposing party.
And of course, no one would do that without thinking twice but when it comes to social media, we might not realize what it means to import our contacts and connect with someone. So, that’s one specific example of how the ethics rules apply to our social media use and how we might inadvertently violate it by connecting with someone that we shouldn’t.
Karla Eckardt: And with regard to interacting with people over social media, have you ever had people ask you for a specific legal advice through your accounts and how do you or other attorneys necessarily go about handling that?
Ethan Wall: Sure, people ask me for legal advice, it happens all the time. And if you’re active on social media and you’re promoting who you are and what you’re doing with your practice it’s only natural that people are going to want to ask you for help. And guess what, that’s the benefit of social media in the first place, meaning we don’t have to pay tens of thousands of dollars to a marketing company to attract new clients, by sharing what we’re doing online, whether we’re involved in committee meetings or speaking on The Florida Bar podcast or volunteering at an immigration drive in your local community, it’s going to let people know that you can help others in this area.
And it’s inevitable that somebody might either write a post on your timeline or comment on one of your posts seeking legal advice, and when that happens that’s okay, but we do need to be mindful about how we might respond to people so that one we don’t breach any potential duty of confidentiality that we might have with someone, or two, we might not want to inadvertently create within that prospective client’s mind that there is some sort of attorney-client relationship or protection arising out of the fact that they asked us a question on our Facebook page.
So, what do I recommend that other lawyers do when this happens, I would at that point reach out to that person privately or to reply to that comment to say, hey, thanks so much for reaching out to me, would you please give me a call at my office or send me an email or send me a direct message on that social media profile. And in that way you are staying attentive to that prospective client’s needs. You are not providing legal advice or making clear that you are going to be providing legal advice and then you can communicate with that person in a manner that you are more comfortable with such as the — a private message an email or a phone call.
So, I think that’s probably the best way to go about it when that inevitable situation does arise or someone asks a question that could be seeking legal advice on your social media profile.
Christine Bilbrey: On a previous podcast we have discussed attorney identity theft, we had some instances of where an individual has assumed the identity of an actual Florida attorney and is conducting business, taking retainers and the attorney doesn’t know it until a complaint is filed against their name, even if they had no contact with the people doing the reporting.
So, you said different whether you decide to be on Twitter or Facebook, LinkedIn, do you recommend that attorneys go ahead and claim those to prevent other people from posing as them? I remember being at a social media conference a long time ago and they got someone on the audience that agreed to let the presenter Google them live and they were shocked at everything that was out there because they thought they didn’t have much of a presence. So, should they claim all those accounts? Should they buy the domain for their name? What do you recommend for that area?
Ethan Wall: I definitely recommend that you purchase a domain name for your name and also to claim the social media profiles for what we call handles that also reflect your name or your law firm’s name as well, even if you don’t plan to use it, and here’s why.
First things first, it would be unreasonable for us to think that if we are going to use social media that we are going to be using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, all these different profiles. If that was the case you probably spend all your time on social media and not practicing law meaning you’d be me.
And I can tell you that it does get distracting after a while, if we don’t manage our time appropriately, it would be pretty difficult for us to use all the social media profiles all the time and to use it effectively. Instead, it’s important for us to choose what are the right profiles for us and then focus on those.
Now, with that caveat in mind, I think that it’s really important that we be careful and proactive by buying domain names and by registering social media profiles for our names and for our law firms even if we don’t plan to use them. I call that Defensive Registration, meaning even if you couldn’t fathom using Twitter, now or in the future, it’s possible that somebody might claim your Twitter handle and post negative things that come from your account and people are going to think that it’s you. And by registering your Twitter handle as a name you can be more defensive and protect against that, and the same thing with your name as a domain name.
For example, what I mean is ethanwall.com, even though I have the socialmedialawfirm.com and socialmedialawandorder.com which are directed to my particular businesses, I also own my own domain name so that some other Ethan Wall out there might not register it and put some unsavory things online either about me or they could reflect about me. And so, even if you don’t plan to use those social media handles, you should register them because you want to make sure that other people don’t post things that are inappropriate for you and it’s free to register social media handles and it’s like 12 bucks a year to own a domain name for your name. So, it’s a super-easy thing for you to be able to do.
Karla Eckardt: So, your book the ‘Social Media Guide for Lawyers’ provides best practices and step-by-step guides for attorneys and law firms, social media profiles, which is very helpful for our members who have never used social media and you are overwhelmed by the number of options you definitely want a step-by-step guide. It also has strategies for posting, tweeting, and connecting with colleagues and potential clients and an overview of legal advertising ethics rules for social media. Ethan, where can our listeners go to find a copy of your book?
Ethan Wall: You can go to socialmedialawandorder.com and you go to the Books page and you can download a free copy of the ‘Social Media Guide for Lawyers’.
As you said, Karla, it’s a really good primer on how to get started with social media and there is a new book; however, that does come out within the next month called ‘Social Skills’ and the reason that we have this newer book is that when I wrote the ‘Social Media Guide for Lawyers’ a couple years ago a lot has changed on social media since then, and it’s kind of like when you buy an iPhone and you have all this great technology but what you don’t know is a month from now a brand-new iPhone is going to come out 16:16 new technology that didn’t exist a year ago.
So, the ‘Social Media Guide for Lawyers’ is a great resource, it’s always going to be free. You just give your email address and you receive a copy of it and it’s a great guide, and if you are looking for the most up-to-date information on social media you can visit buysocialskills.com and it includes a lot of the information that was in the ‘Social Media Guide for Lawyers’ but for that 2018 version, and it covers even a more comprehensive discussion of the legal advertising ethics rules and how we can use social media in today’s environment with all of the new up-to-date features to help guide your practice and to help accomplish your business development goals.
Christine Bilbrey: Excellent. So, we are going to have members who are going to say, this isn’t for me, they are still operating under the old model they joined rotary in their town, they have an old listing in the —
Karla Eckardt: Yellow Pages —
Christine Bilbrey: — there are phone numbers available, the online Yellow Pages, but — so what do you say to those people? Do you feel like having a social media presence is always going to translate into more potential clients for attorneys? So, for the skeptical people what does that look like? Do you have analytics, how do you explain it to them?
Ethan Wall: So, I am never going to force anyone to use social media. Let’s face it. No one wants to sit on their deathbed 20, 30, 60 years from now and say, I wish I spent more time on Facebook. It just doesn’t happen. And so, if you don’t think social media is for you, that’s totally cool. I am not running around State of Florida knocking on everyone’s law office and said you must be on social media and I am going to hold your hand through the keyboard to make you create that account, because we all are interested in different things in life, and that’s okay. So, if you think that social media is not for you, then fine, that’s totally all right.
Now, at least I want you to consider this and that is that in today’s day and age, when people are looking to hire attorneys whether it’s a large firm or a solo practitioner, what are they going to do? They are going to Google them or they are going to search for them on Facebook or search for them on LinkedIn because that’s just what people do these days to get some background information before they make a big hiring decision.
And I just want you to consider what might someone think when they search online for your name and they don’t find you, or worse, maybe they find some other lawyer who shares a similar name but they practice in Kansas, Kentucky, Alaska out of an igloo somewhere, but they have Wi-Fi, so they created this profile. They might think that either, A, you don’t exist or B, you are not a Florida attorney and can’t help them or what you might be thinking is, well Ethan, maybe they believe that I am so busy helping my clients, I am not wasting my time on Facebook, that might be what they are thinking but probably not.
I do think that it’s really important to keep in mind that the legal profession is constantly evolving just like we are constantly evolving. I had different views on social media. When I wrote my first book on the subject back in 2008, I thought everybody should be on it and that you absolutely must use it and peer the way to do it, and my views have changed over time because as an attorney and as a person I have evolved just as social media has evolved.
So, what’s really important for us to think about especially our more experienced attorneys who haven’t fully adopted all the benefits of technology yet, is that the legal profession and the practice of law is also evolving.
There are legal technology services that are offering potential clients solutions to their legal problems without hiring an attorney.
There are younger attorneys who are just coming out of law schools, who are embracing technology and who are able to offer high-quality legal services for a low cost by using technology to help them in their practice.
I just want everyone to know that if we’re going to choose not to use social media, that’s okay, but we might be doing so at our peril. Just because our prospective clients have also involved and they turned to Facebook and they turned to LinkedIn and they turned to YouTube, which is the world’s second largest search engine after Google to get answers to the legal questions and to get support from other people to determine who they’re going to hire as their next attorney.
And what I would just hate to happen is for you to have used your stellar reputation for practicing for so many years, to get a personal referral from someone because they trusted you’re the right lawyer to hire them and a prospective client searches for you online, finds nothing and goes to the next attorney down their list.
So, I do think that while it’s not absolutely necessary that you have to do it, the benefits certainly outweigh the risk and at minimum I recommend that each attorney have their own social media profiles or a profile for the law firm that at the very least includes the contact information for you, that directs them to your law firm’s website and that has some of the basic information that prospective clients might be looking for when they search for you so that they can then be directed to your website, to your email or call you somewhere where you’re more comfortable interacting with someone.
Christine Bilbrey: That’s a great tip for someone who is not ready to launch full into that. I like that. I also want to remind everyone if you want more information on this topic, coming up we are going to have Ethan Wall, as I mentioned before as our first in the LegalFuel Speaker Series. It’s going to be free CLE where Ethan will be giving you more information that will be available at legalfuel.com.
And we have come to the end of our program. Thank You Ethan Wall for joining us today.
Ethan Wall: Thanks so much for having me. Hopefully I’ll see you on social media.
Christine Bilbrey: If our listeners have questions and they want to follow you on social media or how can they reach you?
Ethan Wall: You can go on pretty much any social media profile, search for Ethan Wall and look for that handsome devil with a beard and then when you find that handsome guy, you look at the next person in line, you’ll find me, I’ll probably be under that.
You can also search for Social Media Law and Order or the Social Media Law Firm, pretty much if you’re typing “Ethan Wall” and “Social Media” somewhere you’re probably going to find the right guy. I’d love to connect with you online, and of course, any questions that you might have about Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and how you’re able to use them in your practice.
Christine Bilbrey: Excellent. If you liked what you heard today, please rate us in Apple Podcasts. Join us next time for another episode of The Florida Bar Podcast, brought to you by LegalFuel, the Practice Resource Center of The Florida Bar on Legal Talk Network. I am Christine Bilbrey.
Karla Eckhardt: And I am Karla Eckhardt. Until next time, thank you for listening.
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