I taught a course this week - Marketing on the Internet - at Mark Shank's Law Practice Management Class at Southern Methodist University Law School. The LPM course was new last year - it attracted 14 students. This year, it has 49, and I expect next year it will exponentially grow again. It's not about learning the law, it's about understanding how to run the business of a law practice. Grounded and practical for mostly third years and some seconds. (Mark Shank is a partner at the litigation boutique, Gruber Hurst Johansen Hail.)
As I started my presentation, I asked the class:
- When you think of starting your careers in a year or two, what is the biggest opportunity you see that the Internet can bring you?
- What is your greatest fear when you think about the Internet and your career?
I asked these questions before I spoke about online assets available to the law firm enterprise and those available to each person. And it was before I spoke about Facebook and when it isn't your friend.
I asked the students to write these answers down and sign their names if they were willing to have their answers shared with attribution on this Law Firm 4.0 blog. Thanks to everyone in Mark Shank's class for their time and attention - I thoroughly enjoyed my evening with you.
Let's start with their fears - answering Question #2:
- David Norris: Ease of accidentally or unknowingly offending/angering/estranging someone by an offhand comment, whether in email, Facebook or whatever. Rather than discussing or asking for clarification, potential friends and clients could simply cross my name off their list.
- Sarah Henniger: Making the most of available technology and privacy issues and seeing negative info about me
- Ethan Wood: My political views making potential clients nervous
- Heather Frayre: Staying ahead of the curve
- Ragip Kurceren and Kenneth McClure: Lack of privacy and irreparable harm of leaked information
- Lewis Schipl: Could bring embarrassing details to the public
- Trent Rexing: Work becoming almost exclusively online
- Lindsey Olson: Online communications between clients, opposing counsel, etc. are permanent and must be very heavily calculated and monitored.
- Brad Wilson: Negative information posted about me
- Millie Rhoades and Krystal Plonka: (both spoke about outsourcing) The fear that my work could easily be outsourced to cheaper attorneys using email, chat, etc. (And) U.S. laws moving slower and diminishing our competitive capability.
- Kristin Jones: Fear that someone will post something about me that is untrue and will ruin my reputation and my kids' reputations. I would hate for my practice to harm my children and their professional future.
- Lindsay Daniel: Leaking of information -- i.e., accidentally emailing confidential papers to the wrong party.
- Timothy Martin: Damage to reputation through associations with others.
- Spencer Guy: "SECURITY." As more and more services gain an "online component," there is a real risk of information disclosure. Banks and commercial corporations experience data theft daily -- names, addresses, SSNs, credit card numbers, etc. How much security will sufficiently protect confidential information and privileged communication?
"WAL-MART." That is, high-volume, fixed-cost services. Some bread-and-butter services, such as Will work, title work, etc. will likely move to single purpose legal providers.
"AVAILABILITY OF INFORMATION." Clients are conducting their own legal research more frequently. (Mis)informed clients are not the best clients. Alternatively, less people may seek legal counsel.
- Joe Licata: An unfair portrayal on AVVO or Martindale or LinkedIn. Internet slander type stuff.
- Monica Adriano: Identity theft
- Tennille Johnson: Privacy, bad ratings of you, IT support
- Amber Beatty: I don't want to be held back from employment because I am or am not involved in a social networking website.
- Alex Bolton: Ways to distinguish myself from others (how to win the rat race)
- Phillip Kim: That lawyers (and myself especially) wil become more replaceable.
- Chart Westcott: No fears.
What struck me about these fears is how consistent they are with what older, experienced practicing lawyers would say. My advice is (and I said this in the class), if you really fear loss of privacy, then don't post anything on Facebook or anywhere else that compromises the best of who you are and whom you plan to become. No drunken reverie photos, no pictures of you at a hash bash, no rants about potential employers or clients, no diatribes about past relationships. You get the idea.
Facebook, LinkedIn, Martindale Connected - all social sites - are great assets to your personal life and career when restraint and self-censorship are employed.
So, what do these students see as the Internet's greatest opportunities as it relates to their careers?
- Access to information
- Access to potential clients
- Access to every target market
- Providing clients information about my firm and the services we provide. It can inspire confidence and reach out to new prospects.
- Clients, exposure, visiblity, the professional "look"
- Networking (e.g., finding new jobs/clients)
- The ability for anyone to search for your firm
- Exposure (Kevin LaMarca said "exposure" for his fear, too) - and the opportunity to put together a good website, because most law firm websites are BAD AND BORING.
- Besides cients, it will bring me opportunities to expand my legal knowledge without having to take other classes.
- Name recognition
- The Internet is a pre-requisite to doing business.
- It will help me establish my practice through cheap cloud applications.
- Finding jobs in a way that's much more accessible
- Research tools for my practice and to learn more about my clients
- The ability to do contract work with firms via email
- Information on potential clients and referral sources
- I plan on starting a solo practice when I graduate, so the Internet will be my main source of initial clients (via online ads, etc.). Lindsey Olson says, "I already use the Internet for 100% of the ads for my bakery, so I intend to do the same for my own practice."
- Using social networking to to keep in touch with old business contacts, and possibly take them on as clients.
- Communication. Communication with clients, attorneys, government agencies, etc. Much of the electronic communication and networks are in their infancy -- a mashed-up collaboration of unintegrated communication providers. Once this cloud is refined and matured, a higher level of efficiency can be had. Communication with prospective clients (passive communication) via firm websites is key to first impressions. Communication with government agencies often requires a paper document to follow a priority-attaining e-file. This does not provide an efficiency boost. Once electronic communication becomes the norm and holds legal clout, a higher level of efficiency will actually exist.
My advice to the students who plan to start their own solo or small firms? Because of the white-out, blizzard nature of the information available on the Internet, you won't get online traction unless you narrow your focus and your messages. Understand how the search engines work, become known for something (remember I spoke about owning your online reputation and becoming a subject matter expert?) and be diligent about keeping your online presence current and relevant.