Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The New Communication Paradigm


I've been packing up my house to move, the first move in more than 20 years for my family. This is the house where I raised three kids, so you can imagine how many precious things we've uncovered, and how much junk! We've been to St. Vincent de Paul with so many loads of fine quality household stuff that they lock the door when they see us coming. So despite our attempt to find new homes for so many of these treasures, lots are finding their way to the recycle bin. I also found my tax returns all the way back to 1984—including years of nanny tax returns! Those I will definitely keep just in case the President someday calls and asks for my help.

So this urge to purge has extended itself to my office, and I've been cleaning off bookshelves and tossing law practice periodicals that I kept for one reason or another. I usually can't figure out why I've kept a particular issue. One did catch my eye—the September 2004 issue of Law Practice from the ABA Law Practice Management Section. The issue included a lot of stuff that now seems obvious but at the time were probably the reason I kept the issue. However, it is a brief, regular column "Technology in Practice" that caught my eye today. The columnist, Erik Heels, wrote a bit about website design and the benefits of blogging. I didn't know a single lawyer who blogged in 2004, and I only know a few personally who do so now. The same was true of LinkedIn in 2004—I'd heard of it, but no one was using it.

I firmly believe, though, that new communication tools—blogging, on-line social networks, Twitter, YouTube, and so on—have now reached a tipping point and are very rapidly becoming "must-haves" rather than novelties. I think this is true in part because they are ubiquitous in huge sectors of our client bases. Those who speak the new language of communication will be more in tune with client technology, business practices and communication tools. Lawyers who "get it" will provide more value-added advice to their clients than those who don't. They'll stand out from those who are behind the curve.

I also think that this new communication paradigm will be used in the ferocious competition for clients that is coming in this protracted economic downturn. Survival in private practice may come to those who are not only excellent lawyers, but also excellent communicators. Lawyers who are most adept at communicating with current and prospective clients are the ones who will have the best chance at building a strong and loyal client base. Those planning to retire in a few years won't develop these new communication skills—mostly because they lack the sense of urgency that drives learning a new language. But for every excellent lawyer who is competing with other excellent lawyers for good work from good clients, learning, understanding, and using the new language skills will be essential.

How often do you see a leader in a field other than law direct you to her blog, Facebook or LinkedIn page, YouTube videos and Twitter? If you haven't noticed it yet, you will soon. Being followed as a notable blogger, poster, and twitterer will be much more important than being profiled by a news reporter, commended in a tombstone ad by your colleagues, or interviewed for a gossip column in the local legal paper. Lawyers who are out at the front of their fields, commenting on what is important and maintaining a following based on excellence and quality, will be the leaders that clients notice.

I'm not suggesting that these tools will take the place of face-to-face communication—of course they won't. But, just as the telephone, the fax machine, and emails revolutionized law practice for past generations of lawyers, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and their progeny, will do the same for ours.

Where can I find and follow you?


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