Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Twitter use in the UK legal sector

@lawyercatrin got the attention of many Tweagles yesterday by drawing our attention to a report published by intendance entitled “Focus on Twitter: An overview of Twitter use in the UK legal sector”You can read The Lawyer’s synopsis of the report here.
The gist of the report is that: law firms are not very good at using Twitter; unless they are Allen & Overy apparently; Norton Rose are tenth in the law firm Twitter charts even though no Tweets have ever been Tweeted from twitter.com/NortonRoseGroup; and there’s some unnamed guy from Charles Russell (who we must assume is @TMT_Lawyer) who Tweets a lot.
The intendance report does not make any points that anyone half conversant with Twitter (and as a recentish convert I certainly do not make myself out to be an expert or anything approaching) could not work out for themselves.  But.....if the results of the research are accurate (and I have not sought to verify them), then that suggests the law firms (meaning entities, not necessarily the lawyers within them) the subject of the research are indeed not half conversant with Twitter so should find it useful.
At this point it is traditional to start putting the boot into law firm partners: they don’t get it, the world is changing, blah blah blah.
But if I were a law firm partner, then I would be putting the boot into my business development and marketing teams.
I’ve just checked the Norton Rose and Allen & Overy Twitter accounts.  If I worked in NortonRose comms, I’d have made sure I’d Tweeted something by now about why I hadn’t Tweeted before.  And if I worked in Allen & Overy comms, I’d probably be Tweeting something self-congratulatory about the intendance research.  Twitter silence however in both courts some 8 hours after @lawyercatrin Tweeted the story.
The Lawyer published a related article in December about PR agencies urging lawyers to wake up to social media.  This generated a lot of fairly polarised comment from users, but one of the themes running through the posts is that law firms don’t “get” social media.
Now I know from my own experience Tweeting at legal conferences or seminars, that many lawyers don’t “get” Tweeting and give you a kind of small sympathetic what-a-loser-you-must-be smile when you explain what you are doing.  But over time they will get it (and then those of us who like to think we had first mover advantage will complain that Twitter has become mainstream and staid and look for the next new thing.  Quora anyone?).  But the people in law firms who should definitely “get” Twitter *now* are their marketing and biz dev teams.
All of the law firms surveyed by intendance will have created a lot of valuable content over the last 12 months.  Some of that content will be published in the nice glossy pamphlets that still sit in law firm lobbies (another note to law firm marketeers: kill the pamphlets, save the trees, and stick 10 iPads in reception with your client briefings pre-installed as PDFs.  Gimmicky but catchy).  A lot more of it will have been pushed out by email and deleted by in-house counsel that signed-up to email updates long ago with best intentions but tend to kill what they don’t need in their inbox.
Simple question to law firm biz dev folk: why aren’t you pushing that content out on Twitter? 
Generic firm Twitter feeds are not enough.  By way of example: twitter.com/dla_piper_news, bubbling under at number two in the intendance charts.  DLA’s most recent Tweets relate to Dutch employment law, US bankruptcy law, UK environmental law and how the tax team held a seminar on the Tax Code of Ukraine.  Now, unless there are many US companies facing bankruptcy and wondering what impact that might have on their Dutch-national but Ukranian-based employees’ tax status, that strikes me as a tad generalist as a Twitter feed.
Law firms: repackage your content please so that Twitter updates are sector specific, find users who you think will follow and who have decent followings, and deliver the content your lawyers have already created in a format that a heavily engaged audience will really appreciate and most likely use.
This request for tailored legal updates is not intended to negate or replace what I know is the real value of Twitter: engagement, community, interaction, conversation, debate and networking.  This is where “the lawyers” within their firms do have a role to play and there are many outhousers out there leading the way (see aforementioned @TMT_Lawyer as one example).
But, looking at the intendance research, it looks to me like it’s the law firm marketing teams who need to raise their Twitter game, fast.  And if I were a law firm partner then I’d be having a conversation with my marketing team soon about good old fashioned ROI in the context of good new fashioned social media.

10 comments:

  1. Good points here but what is missing is that many of the smaller firms DO get Twitter and we get it in a big way. I have over 3000 tweets and 1000+ followers to my name. One of my partners outdoes me significantly (but he's been on Twitter a long time!!)

    The arrogance of the larger firms is breathtaking to behold and this so called survey merely feeds that arrogance without any good reason. I hope that Catrin writes another article about this as many of us on Twitter urged her to do.

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  2. As an even more recent convert to twitter and blogging I agree completely. We (speaking as a law firm partner) need to raise our game.

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  3. It could be that the intended audience of the larger law firms for the desired big-ticket work simply isn't on Twitter or interested in it. On the other hand, if they're looking for entrepreneurs or individual investors, Twitter is the place to make their presence known. It seems to me that most law firms will be better off with specialist thought leader accounts that are attractive to the specific audiences or interests and work referrers that relate to their area of expertise. In short this report demonstrates that Charles Russell has got it right. Of course, that is not to praise their marketing department because I suspect Andrew of being a maverick.
    From my experience of large law firm marketing departments, they could never have the independence to tweet with any character. Everything needs approval and approval results in loss of spontaneity necessary for Twitter. Leave them to organise the trips to rugby matches, flash parties and seminars.

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  4. Excellent article Tim, kindly posted on LinkedIn by Neil Rose (Legal Futures).

    It's about time the small and medium firms were part of such research as these are the ones making a difference online, multinationals should take note.

    Jennie makes a great point about smaller firms, and the 'arrogance' of the larger ones.

    Rob Illidge
    Marketing Executive
    Ralli
    @RalliSolicitors

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  5. I agree about the need to look at smaller firms too but I'm just slightly sceptical about what it appears to be assumed these findings will show. Granted, its easier for lawyers in smaller firms to 'be themselves' or use twitter in a targeted way. This might explain why smaller firms appear more active and might mean they are traiblazers but how many of the literally thousands of such firms are on (say) twitter? As a proportion I think not many.

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  6. My concern is that with everyone now having their tuppence worth over this report (I read it the day it came out but saw nothing in it that warranted a Tweet or blog post - sorry and thank you for taking the trouble to blog about it), the firms are by the law of unintended consequences getting attention that they probably didn't expect to get. Surely they can't be that naive? I am not interested in seeing A&O's news on Twitter. I will get it from their RSS or my Google Reader. What I want to see is commentary that is remarkable and client focused. I would be spending time looking at the Social Technographics ladder and working out for those clients, referrers or sneezers that are on Twitter what is going to float their boat and what sort of content is going to be most appealing. Twitter may be a waste of time (initially) because the content has no way of reaching the influencers. Hey it's a start but I sense that trying to use Twitter as a driver to earn attention (see www.webinknow.com) is going to be mighty difficult.
    Julian

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  7. Those Law Firm marketing teams need to consider, as Jon Bloor coined it, 'Tweeting in Convoy':-

    http://www.peninsulawyer.com/blog/2009/9/30/tweeting-in-convoy.html

    However, unless they manage to get at least some of their solicitors behaving like the 'destroyers' that Jon refers to (Your "engagement, community, interaction, conversation, debate and networking") they will not achieve much, if anything, from their Twitter prescence.

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  8. A belated thanks for all of the comments above. This issue has now been widely debated on Twitter and various personal blogs, and there are different opinions held by many, all of which are of course valid in their own way. If nothing else, it's great that the Intendance research and Lawyer coverage got us Tweagles (or is it Twegals?) debating the issue to this degree.

    Jennie, I personally don't think that the lack of Twitter-savvyness is down to arrogance by the big firms. I think it's simpler than that - just naivety on the part of their biz dev folk.

    Julian - you asked me if I'd be interested to see Senior/Managing Partners of Big Firms Tweet. My answer is, not really, I'm more interested in hearing from sector specialists like Rob Bratby above, or having tailored Twitter accounts (like the new @TWMediaTech), I've never really found RSS a user-friendly experience in the same way that Twitter is, hence my request for sector specialist accounts.

    As for Tweeting in convoy, perhaps Jon's (@beej777) blogpost referred to by @brianinkster does prove @filemot's implied point at the end of her comment, that it is the smaller firms leading the way right now.

    Thanks again everyone.

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  9. The big beef I have with law firm entities Tweeting, whether biglaw or smalllaw, is that they do so anonymously. I do not want to have a conversation with an entity that is hiding behind their brand name. I want to converse with a person. If you have a Twitter account for your law firm, make sure you identify, in the profile section, WHO is actually speaking on behalf of the firm. Although the buzz words transparency and authenticity are over used in regard to social media, they really do make sense.

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