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Online marketing might not be right for all lawyers

If you use the phrases “rush to judgment,” “jump on the bandwagon” and the always popular “dive in head first,” you certainly wouldn’t be discussing anything remotely related to legal marketing or the practice of law in general.

So why is it that you would expect everyone at the firm to launch into social networking without hesitation?

Needless to say, I’ve given my share of legal marketing social media primers and helped some attorneys find their inner tweet (or at least LinkedIn) online. But this whole one-size-fits-all mentality is becoming, for legal professionals, a colossal waste of time.

First of all, anyone who knows anything about legal marketing knows that each firm has its own character, its own compensation system and its own means of growing its client base.

I always find it laughable when people in my industry talk law firms into marketing their practices in the same one-size-fits-all means they use on their retail or nonprofit clients.

It’s a different animal altogether and those who tell firms they need to get all of their attorneys to build a Facebook page, launch a Twitter account and develop their LinkedIn profiles really don’t know what makes a law firm different from other types of businesses.

For one, law firms are very slow to react to changing business development and marketing strategies. Mostly because they’re too busy doing their jobs to follow trends. That’s where the marketing consultant, department, etc., comes in.

But if those marketing people are worth their salt in their profession, they would also be the first to tell you that time is exactly the barrier most attorneys face in trying new marketing strategies.

Does a litigator have as much time as an estate planning attorney to market? In most cases, no. Do senior rainmakers have the same need to develop new social networks as aggressive associates? Nope. So why do we try and indoctrinate everyone at one time at the same level?

Unique personalities, lifestyles, practice areas and obligations mean most attorneys need an individual marketing plan that aligns with the overall firm plan. Surely they don’t have the same likes, networks, desires, family situations, length of time in the profession and revenue goals, so why do some marketing consultants feel compelled to rush everyone into the social media water at the same time and pace?

Secondly, and I know this is shocking to my marketing brethren, but the vast majority of attorneys will never get anything out of social media. Ever.

Social media, whether it’s LinkedIn or a blog is only as good as the time you put into it and at the expense of repeating myself, most attorneys have very little. And social media tools are useless if you don’t constantly work them.

Think about all the attorneys in your office. Now ask yourself, who really has the bandwidth to be searching new links to post, write blog items, invite 20 or so contacts to join them on LinkedIn or update what’s going on in their lives on Facebook?

Now, while I understand there are some great tools out there that incorporate all these venues in one place, for most attorneys, this is beyond a realistic expectation.

I’ve attended and have been invited to countless sessions teaching legal marketing professionals how to engage their attorneys in the latest social media platforms. You already know who at the firm can take advantage of that and you know who to go to. And, frankly, a few attorneys are already doing it without you because they saw the value on their own. A few.

So what do they really need?

A targeted, individual, practice and yes, personality-driven marketing plan. Will that include social media? The easy answer is, “Maybe.”

Mark Gilman is president of Decus Strategic Communications in Clarkston and Charlotte, N.C., and is a member of the National Legal Marketing Association and Detroit LMA City Group.