Sunday, November 9, 2014

Class at the Bar – A Social Media and Branding Strategy

The following posting is made with permission from the State Bar of Wisconsin who originally printed it as an article with the same name included in Young Lawyer Division News, State Bar of Wisconsin, November 2014, Vol. No. 17, Issue No. 4:

“Busy people get stuff done” were the comforting words of my partner Ronald Keefe, a former State Bar of Michigan President, after listening to me rattle off all of the non-work work that I have to get done.  Earlier in my career I was continually irritated by vague articles that insisted attorneys need “a social media strategy” but offered little by way of clear explanation.  In the hopes of helping someone else figure out what is going to work for them, I am going to try to explain my own personal branding and social media strategy. 

Non-work work is how I refer to activities that I am involved in because of my career for which I do not get paid.  I have plenty of them – editor of the YLD News, board member of the Young Lawyers Division, editorial board member of the Wisconsin Lawyer, council member of the Litigation Section of the State Bar of Michigan, contributing author of The Law of Damages in Wisconsin, board member of the YMCA of Marquette County, and author of (my blog).  Sure these activities can have altruistic purposes; however, beyond that, they also benefit me in terms of marketing and professional development.

As you can see, I have a heavy focus on bar activities.  If I was a business transactional lawyer or estate-planning attorney, I might focus more on working with and being around accountants rather lawyers.  If real estate law was my primary area, I might focus more on networking with bankers and realtors.  Accountants, bankers, and realtors, are good referral sources for these practice areas.  However, while I do some real estate work and have somewhat of a general practice, the primary focus of my practice is civil litigation.  Who the referral sources for litigators are has been a question in my mind for years.  The best answer I can come up with is that other lawyers are my referral sources.

Clients involved in significant litigation tend to have lawyers well before they get sued or need to sue someone, and it is the business, real estate, and estate planning lawyers who the clients contact first.  How do I get other lawyers to view me as someone capable of handling these matters?  I am not immediately impressive, and I often tend to say too much in conversation.

Thinking back to my law school days, I believe and hope that my classmates viewed me as a good student who was going to make a good lawyer.  Over time, they got to know me.  By doing so, my classmates may have been able to overlook my shortcomings and notice areas where I excel.  I only recently learned about the term “gunner”, and I wouldn’t doubt that I was on a lot of gunner bingo boards during law school.  I talked a lot because I enjoyed the discussion, but there was no ulterior motive.  During my second year I interviewed for a summer job at a large, well regarded firm in the Detroit area.  One of the attorneys asked me after looking over my resume, “Do you have political aspirations?”  My response, “Political aspirations? I’m not sure I’m even going to vote”… like I said, sometimes I offer too much.  I’m a little more polished today but, then again, I just told you that story.  

A while back, I decided to make the bar my classroom in the hopes that more lawyers would get to know me and that I would get to know more lawyers.  I volunteer for bar activities so that I can be a part of, and help create, a culture of learning and mentoring.  I write articles, such as this one, not because I am any sort of expert, but to help start a conversation.  I think I have learned more from conversations with other lawyers than I ever did from classes.  However, I have also participated on two different CLE panels, and I can foresee a couple more in the works.  Lawyers have been doing this sort of thing for a long, long time and today social media provides a nice addition to this sort of networking. 

Pretty much every time I meet new lawyers on a case, at a bar event, or anywhere else, I will find them, and connect with them, on LinkedIn.  Many of my Facebook friends are lawyers too.  I regularly view the LinkedIn and Facebook news feeds and occasionally like and comment on updates.  When I create a new blog post, I share it on LinkedIn and Facebook.  I also post most of the articles I write for the YLD News to my blog and share those posts as well.  It would be easy to knock all this effort by asking simply how many likes do you actually get? Shares? Comments? Profile views? Clients? Etc.  The numbers would be modest by any measure, but these things take time and the overall effect is hard to quantify. 

For instance, my blog has only received a few direct comments. It has received a few more comments and likes on LinkedIn and Facebook, but even including those it still has not received many of either.  So then, is all my effort a waste of time?  I don’t think so because:

  • Writing for a large audience and public speaking both help me become a better litigator;
  • Blogging and bar activity directly led to me being asked to be an author of The Law of Damages in Wisconsin; an attorney-editor for the bar was looking to get more young lawyers involved, she looked at the YLD board members, and she saw my blog;
  • One of my of blog posts got picked up in the daily Non-Sequiturs on Above The Law, which drove significantly more traffic to That’s My Argument than ever before;
  • Since becoming heavily involved in bar activities in 2012, Avvo increased my rating to “Superb” and Michigan Super Lawyers recognized me as a “Rising Star”; it’s still just me, but I’ll take the free marketing as everyone else does; and
  • Writing for the YLD News, led to me being on the cover of the October 2014 issue of the Wisconsin Lawyer; the editor read my blog, which contained an article I had written for the YLD News concerning my career, and she thought I would be a good fit for an article already in the works entitled “The Road to Rural Practice”. 

Participating on listservs is another good way to engage other lawyers.  I have actually trained myself to feel guilty every time I delete an email from the Litigation or the Real Property, Probate and Trust Law listservs without reading it even though doing just that is often a necessity due to other demands for my time.

I remember talking about the benefits of bar participation with a friend while preparing for a CLE program that we were putting on called “Making Leadership Your Brand.”  He wondered how we would fill an hour because, to him, the benefits were obvious.  To me, they were not, initially.  For much of my career, I did not understand the role of the bar.  All I really knew is that I was required to be a member.  Get involved.  There are many good lawyers out there, and if you don’t put yourself out there once in awhile, how can others judge whether they view you as one of the good ones. Through my practice, bar activities, LinkedIn, Facebook and listservs, I have gotten to know many lawyers and many lawyers have gotten to know me… for better or worse.

As a final thought, if you’re going to write for large audience, it helps to have an awesome assistant like I do.  She makes sure that when I look foolish it’s not by accident.  Every time I write, “your an idiot” she reminds me it’s “you’re”… there I go again, too much, too much!  

That's My Argument.

© November 2014 Brandon J. Evans