Wednesday, 26 January 2011

The talking rolodex

If you had asked me a year ago whether I would have considered using Twitter or any social media platform as a medium for hiring a law firm I would have dismissed the idea as ill thought out.

So why have I just used Twitter to find a law firm to provide a junior lawyer on secondment to the FT?

The facts: FT lawyer about to go on maternity leave; recruitment process for maternity cover slightly behind where we'd like it to be; fairly urgent need for lawyer to step-into the gap between mat leave and mat cover; and inherent unwillingness to use recruitment agencies.

Obvious solution: speak to key relationship firms to arrange a short-term secondment.  Tried that, no dice for a straight secondment (that's not a criticism by the way, just a fact).

What next: well, I fancied the idea of a bit of an experiment.  I've been fortunate to build a good network on Twitter and for the most part it's made up of lawyers or other professionals working in or with some connection to the legal community.  Tweet goes out: "do any law firms want a chat about a secondment".

Results: good.  6 or so initial chats/DMs/emails exchanged.  3 subsequent Tweet-ups. One firm engaged.

Analysis: those following Twitteratigate (incidental links, read The Time Blawg for the whole story, read in_house_lawyer for the succinct sea change analysis) might think that the above results are surprising.  After all law firms don't engage via social media do they? On the other hand, I'm lucky enough to work for a brand and product that is a bit of a draw, so I guessed there would be some interest.  But even applying a "discount" for the FT-brand factor, I think the exercise proves that engagement is there, to a degree.  Thank you again to those of you that did.

Risks: although "instructing via Twitter" might sound unusual to the uninitiated, there are no risks in terms of who we have engaged that would not be there if we had found the firm via a law firm directory (bad example, I never would) through a contact or similar.  We spoke to the firm we engaged on the 'phone twice, met, chatted, asked questions, liked them.  And in any case, it's a well known firm, with a good reputation who I've been aware of for years, but never worked with.  But, nevertheless throughout this process I have been conscious there are optical risks finding a firm in this way, primarily for me.

Traditionalists (or even non-traditionalists) might wonder why the GC of the FT needs to find law firms via Twitter.  Surely I'm better networked than that?  Is it appropriate for big blue chips to find professional advisors in this way?  And in public so to speak?  Isn't it just a bit of a new fad gimmick?  I can see why people might think that and I asked those questions of myself.  Yes, I certainly could have got on the 'phone for an hour or two or three and worked through some contacts, found recommendations, rung them etc.  Maybe I could have tried harder with the relationship firms who initially said no.  Or talked to other laywers I've met in the past and not worked with who would probably like to work with us.  But frankly I didn't have time.  And I wanted to work with someone who was both interested in doing this and who could resource it.  And yes, a small part of me wanted to work with someone who "gets it" (you know what I mean if you found this through a Tweet).

Twitter is many different things and in this instance it has been a huge talking rolodex.  Ask a question, people see it whether directly or through helpful RTs, and those that are interested can talk, those that are not can ignore, and it means I have not bothered them and wasted their time, nor wasted my own time in doing so.  Efficiency personified.

Caveats: our secondment requirement was non-confidential, non-strategic and with no real sector specialism requirements.  I would not use social media in this way for an engagement with any of these criteria.  Indeed, I would rightly expect questions asked of me internally if I did so.  Those are projects where you most likely already know the person you want to work with, or if you don't, you carry out more forensic due diligence and in confidence.  To use Twitter or any other social media platform for an engagement of that nature would arguably be unprofessional, bad judgement and demonstrate a lack of knowledge of the legal sector (although I suppose each case would depend on its facts).

But, for a requirement such as our secondment, it's been perfect and I would certainly do it again.  Thanks Twitter for facilitating the subject of Twitteratigate, namely engagement.

1 comment:

  1. No doubt today certain firms who were unable to provide a secondment will be feeling miserable. You may imply no criticism but they will certainly now feel that a competitor has an opportunity to impress you and take work away from them. I offer them my condolences. When I was a law firm partner, it always seemed to be my assistants who were stolen for essential secondments such as this and it meant I worked harder to cover their work and the gap in the budget that their loss meant. Of course, the compliment that my assistant was the most versatile, well-trained and presentable was enough compensation. I only make this comment because others can't.
    Congratulations on your excellent use of Twitter and I trust that the secondee will live up to to and beyond expectations and prove an excellent ambassador for their firm.

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