Social media can be great for rainmaking – if you follow the rules

November 11, 2010

Larisa Tehven

social media graphicAs lawyers and law firms seek new strategies to build (or rebuild) their businesses in these economically challenging times, social networking is emerging as a key tool in advertising and business development.

Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn provide new, low-cost opportunities to communicate with potential clients and business associates.

As an attorney, you can leverage social media to

  • build your brand by defining and promoting your professional profile,
  • build your network by connecting with your peers, and
  • build your reputation by contributing to conversations that can benefit from your subject-matter expertise.

These types of activities are proven to lead to new business; indeed, these are the same activities that are traditionally viewed as “business development” or “rainmaking.” Of course, there’s a new twist: these activities are now taking place on the Internet instead of at the country club.

In taking advantage of the business development opportunities that social media provides for lawyers and law firms, it’s also critical to consider the rules of professional conduct in your state. Online communications should be crafted in compliance with the key provisions governing advertising and client communications – after all, the rules that apply to traditional business development activities in turn apply to the new methods of communication.

Here are some of the key activities that social media supports, and the relevant provisions of the ABA’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct (on which many states base their own rules):

  • Solicitation – Direct or real-time electronic communication with prospective clients must contain the words “Advertising Material.” (Rule 7.3)
  • Advertisements – All advertising must be transparent and must not be false or misleading. (Rule 7.1, 7.2, 7.3)
  • Testimonials and endorsements – Material connections must be disclosed. (Rule 7.2)
  • Communication of specialties or practice areas – These are permitted in most jurisdictions, but the terminology used must be in compliance with your state’s specific provisions. (Rule 7.4)

Be sure to consult the rules for your own state – and then be as creative and aggressive as you like as you venture into these growing online communities to build your business. We hope you will share some of your successes, tips, and even the “misses” with us as you go!

Larisa Tehven is a licensed attorney and senior marketer for Westlaw.