In the previous two installments, I’ve discussed two reasons that social media matter to lawyers in private practice:  personal-effort efficiency and out-of-pocket spending efficiency.  Here’s a third:  Social media is important to and relevant to clients and the business world in general.

At least outside of law firm walls, social media is not an emerging communications trend; it’s a long-established channel.  Consider this:  The number of Facebook users worldwide is three times the population of the United States. A quarter of a billion people use Twitter at least once a month.  While we debate social media, clients and prospective clients already are there.

Companies that law firms serve long ago made social media a core component of their communications and mercantile strategy. Businesses regularly use social media to communicate with customers, address consumer concerns, screen job candidates and, yes, vet outside counsel.

In a recent social media session for Womble Carlyle lawyers, two inside counsel friends framed it well. Amy Hutchens, the General Counsel at Watermark Risk Management International, pointed out that she regularly follows issues on Twitter and LinkedIn, and she often proactively contacts the private practice lawyers who are leading social media discussions on topics of interest to her.  CSCI General Counsel Brett Coffee laid it out in stark relief:  “To me, if an attorney or legal professional doesn’t have a social media profile, he or she effectively does not exist.”

According to social media consultant Adrian Dayton, at the time that the number of LinkedIn users topped 100 million a couple of years ago, lawyers and legal professionals rank second-to-last—only ahead of farmers—in usage of the tool.  I doubt that the essence of this accounting has changed.

Many private practice lawyers “get” social media of course, but too many are emulating Nero:  fiddling while Rome burns.

Next:  The leveraging of content. 

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