How in-house lawyers are using social media

More lawyers of all ages are using online tools to research, expand networking opportunities

Online Exclusive: More social media statistics

In the past decade, blogs, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and other online tools have flourished. And as the business world continues to embrace them, these new media platforms are transforming from mostly trendy social realms into professional networks brimming with information and opportunity.

Many in-house counsel once were hesitant to dip their toes into the new media pool. But a recent study has uncovered that more lawyers are now confidently swimming in it.

According to the 2012 In-House Counsel New Media Engagement Survey, which the communications firm Greentarget, InsideCounsel and the legal consulting firm Zeughauser Group conducted in November 2011 and December 2011, lawyers of all ages are taking advantage of new media tools in both their careers and personal lives. The survey culled usage data from 334 GCs, chief legal officers, AGCs and other in-house counsel. The majority of respondents (69 percent) were between 40 and 59 years old.

On the following pages, InsideCounsel explores in-house lawyers’ perception of new media, as well as how and why they are using it.

All data are from Greentarget, InsideCounsel and Zeughauser Group’s 2012 In-House Counsel New Media Engagement Survey.

Going Mainstream

One of the most notable findings from the survey is that lawyers’ new media use is becoming more mainstream in terms of age. Older lawyers are consuming more content online than they did two years ago, when the first version of the survey debuted.

“In 2010, there was a very clear generational divide,” says John Corey, president and founding partner of Greentarget. “Counsel in their 30s were much more active adopters of platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. In the subsequent age groups, there was a very clear and gradual decline.

“This time around, we’re seeing a broad leveling-off trend across the board. Counsel in their 40s, 50s and 60s are using social media in much greater numbers. It’s a reflection that older counsel are seeing that there is some very useful information and content out there that can help them to do their jobs better.”

Jack Sorokin is a prime example of this trend. Until he retired at the end of June, he had worked in the legal department at Beckman Coulter Inc., a laboratory instrument maker, for 32 years, most recently as deputy general counsel. Over the past few years, he has built up the number of blogs that he reads on a regular basis—something he says he wouldn’t have pictured himself doing a decade ago.

“I subscribe to about a dozen blogs that cover various areas of law,” he says. “It helps me keep up to date and to get insights into how major law firms and major lawyers look at various issues.”

One factor that is facilitating the upswing in new media use among inside counsel is technology. Justin Connor, senior counsel at Spacenet, an enterprise telecommunications service provider, says he frequently accesses social media sites on his smartphone. “I like that I can do it on the go,” he says. “I can get a quick update or just look at a quick few things when I have a minute or two between meetings.”

Amy Loggins, assistant vice president and corporate counsel at claims management company Crawford & Co., says she uses both her smartphone and her tablet to access new media. “If I’m in the car at a red light or I’m at my kid’s baseball practice, I’ll use my mobile to look at a digest of posts on a listserv,” she says. “I also have an iPad for personal use, and at night I’ll use it to look at LinkedIn.”

Corey predicts that mobile news consumption will continue to grow, particularly as more user-friendly applications become available and as tablets become more mainstream in the workplace. “The tablet is an interesting piece of hardware because it’s part laptop, part cell phone,” he notes. “Already, our data show 25 percent of respondents use tablets to consume general business media, and 20 percent and 21 percent use them to access blogs and social media websites, respectively.”

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Blog Enthusiasm

According to the survey, more in-house counsel are turning to blogs for industry information and ideas.

“The prevalence of blogs in particular offers general counsel specialized content written by peers or highly knowledgeable sources,” Corey says. “Whether seeking perspective on the latest developments in intellectual property law, federal tax policy or imminent Supreme Court rulings, progressive in-house lawyers are accessing a new dimension of content to help them do their jobs better.”

Paul Leuzzi, chief IP counsel at Weyerhaeuser, an integrated forest products company, says the economy drove him to read more blogs. “With the great recession, we’ve cut way back on periodicals,” he explains. “We’ve cut a lot of that out to try to trim costs from our budget. Blogs are a great way to get a diversity of opinions and see what movers and shakers are saying.”

Loggins says she frequently reads legal blogs to find information that helps keep her up to date on national and international law-related news and trends. “Because we have such a huge geographic reach and footprint, I rely on social media to stay abreast of legal developments and new issues as quickly and robustly as I possibly can,” she says.

Some in-house lawyers are even using blogs and social networking sites to find leads for potential outside counsel. Seventy-six percent of respondents said they attribute some level of importance to a lawyer’s blog when deciding whether to retain a firm. Fifty-five percent of survey respondents said a law firm’s blog can influence hiring decisions, which is an increase from the 50 percent of respondents who agreed with that statement in 2010. Eighty-four percent of respondents said they perceive such blogs as credible.

Leuzzi says that if he is trying to choose between law firms for a particular matter, he might look at a law firm’s blog to see if it’s up to date. “If it’s just sitting there looking old and tired, that can tell me a lot about that law firm,” he says.

Tanya Avila, general counsel at the e-commerce company Volusion Inc., sometimes uses nonlaw firm blogs to find outside counsel. “There are a few blogs that I follow of people whom I respect, and if they’re mentioning outside counsel, that, to me, is the same as if I had gone to lunch with a colleague and she had told me what a good job this particular firm had done,” she says. “So I use [social media] in the same way that I use personal references from friends, even though I may not be personal friends with these bloggers. If I agree with most of the other things that they say on their blogs, I trust them.”

Leuzzi’s and Avila’s outlooks reflect the survey’s findings. “It is not surprising that 94 percent of in-house lawyers say that getting recommendations from sources they trust helps them evaluate which lawyers and firms to hire,” Corey says. “But these recommendations don't just happen in person. Social networks foster communication among like-minded people in small groups, broadcast for everyone else to see.”

Additionally, some in-house counsel are exploring ways in which they can broadcast their own thoughts in the blogosphere (see “Q&A: In-house Blogger”).

“I’m trying to set up an internal blog for my company where I blog directly with my managers,” Loggins says. “I hope the blog will give faster advice and counsel to my clients in a succinct manner as opposed to lengthy legal memos about a new case or training program. I’m hoping to get quick, easy advice to them in a streamlined format.”

LinkedIn Prevails

When it comes to social media sites, the survey found that in-house counsel ranked LinkedIn as the most credible network for professional use. The majority of counsel who responded to the survey said they use LinkedIn at least weekly, and respondents older than 50 have doubled their usage since 2010.

“I use LinkedIn on a regular basis to connect with experts around the world, and sometimes I have inbound expertise requests as well,” Connor says. “Sometimes people will be looking for a job. Sometimes they want to hire counsel in a certain jurisdiction, or counsel with certain knowledge or expertise that someone in my network might have.”

However, in-house lawyers aren’t too concerned with growing their number of connections on LinkedIn and other social media sites. Instead, they prioritize quality over quantity. Corey predicts this attitude will continue into the future. “It won’t be about the number of connections you have, or how many groups you join; rather, it’ll be about connecting with the right fellow professionals and participating in the right conversations,” he says.

Connor agrees, but adds that as more lawyers join social media sites, the more valuable these sites will become. “Quality of networking is always important in the sense that the more people who are involved and on a social network, the more value it has to serve all of the participants,” he says. “I certainly have seen that with LinkedIn. I joined shortly after it started, and initially there was very little activity. A few people connected, but I didn’t use it that much and it wasn’t extremely useful. Now, almost everyone that I know in some sort of professional setting tends to be on there. It’s a very useful way to get referrals the bigger the network is.”

Although LinkedIn ranks highest in terms of professional value, other popular social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, garner mostly personal use among inside counsel.

Connor says he only uses Facebook to connect with college and law school friends and others, but he does use Twitter professionally. “I use Twitter in order to connect my in-house practice with other in-house practitioners,” he explains. “For example, if I write a blog entry or an article, if I’m doing something professionally that may be of interest to the in-house legal community, then I will tweet about that and will include a link to whatever it is that I want people to know about.”

Last summer, Loggins launched her company’s Twitter page. “I have not only tweeted on behalf of the company—and I’m slowly trying to pass that onto a marketing person—but I’ve also reviewed and edited postings that were going to go on blogs. One of our employees does a lot of blogging on workers comp sites. So the company is doing a lot of external-facing use of social media. My job, after rolling out the whole program, has basically been to be support for marketing, communications and operations if they want to post something.”

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Silent Audience

People outside the legal industry might be surprised by the fact that the survey found that in-house lawyers don’t frequently comment on blogs or in discussions on social media websites. But inside counsel say they have good reason to keep their thoughts to themselves.

“When you’re representing only one client, you are a little hesitant to step out and state an opinion that could be viewed as the company’s position,” Loggins says. “Everybody knows who your client is. So we are a lot more hesitant to share because we would be divulging certain confidences and privileges.”

Avila agrees. “You can’t really talk about clients the same way that outside counsel can. You can’t make it generic. So we tend to be a little paranoid about talking about anything substantive that can be read in a way that we’re talking about our client. Things that are a little bit more opinion-oriented, especially things that are department management-type things, or just general practice, I feel freer to comment.”

Nonetheless, the survey did find that more in-house counsel are using new media to communicate with their outside counsel. In 2010, 50 percent of survey respondents said they use social media to connect with their law firms to some extent or to a small extent. This year, that number increased to 60 percent.

“We suspect more firms will use social media to communicate with their in-house clients,” Corey says. “The data movement from 2010 to this year is already moving in this direction.”

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