As originally posted in The National Law Journal on May 17th, 2012
Are you a digital dinosaur? Usually, it depends on when you were born. People born during the late decades of the 20th century grew up with computers and don’t remember a world without modern technology; we might call them digital natives.
The baby-boomers, on the other hand, remember a time when there wasn’t a computer on every desktop — the older boomers even remember a time without television. All of these digital dinosaurs received their legal training and spent most of their careers roaming a predigital, pre-Internet landscape.
This creates a major challenge for law firms, because management committees comprise more digital dinosaurs then digital natives. Digital dinosaurs sometimes embrace new technologies and push for innovation, whether in social media, customer relationship management or legal project management. But far too often, fear wins over, and firms continue doing things the way they have always been done.
Innovative firms escape this cycle, in large part by identifying champions. I heard one such success story recently, from the accounting world. Naomi Civins, manager of the Deloitte OnLine practice, shared her experience in gaining institutional buy-in. The key was this message: “Lead from the Top.”
At Deloitte, one of the first tools they embraced was Yammer, an internal messaging system that some compare to an internal Twitter platform for organizations. Not only did Deloitte’s chief executive support this initiative — he became an active participant. This was crucial for two reasons: first, because it sent the message that Deloitte was serious about embracing new technology; second, because use of Yammer by the CEO gave younger associates a voice — they were part of Yammer discussions in which their ideas could seen by the CEO and he could respond to them.
What if your CEO or managing partner is not a champion of innovation? Where else can you look for champions? Some firms have introduced reverse-mentoring, whereby younger lawyers coach more senior attorneys on basic skills like using LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook. While reverse-mentoring has been fairly well received, there is one drawback: younger lawyers may be comfortable uploading pictures to Facebook or updating their LinkedIn profiles, but the skills required to use social networks are very different from those required to build relationships. The best social media champions ideally have both the social skills and a solid understanding of how to use technology to build relationships.
In chatting with law firms all over the world, and working personally with hundreds of lawyers, I have identified a specific profile of lawyers most likely to become champions. Simply put, they are lawyers in transition. Senior associates, junior partners and lateral hires — these three groups seem to have the most success embracing social media and demonstrating measurable success. Gender doesn’t appear to be a deciding factor — much more important is hunger. Lawyer anxious to build their books of business and grow their reputations tend to make very good champions.
New associates and top rainmakers are often less successful, for very different reasons. Associates aren’t completely sure what they want to do yet, or what practice best suits them, and without clear direction they may not be ready to embrace social media. Rainmakers who embrace social media are of huge benefit to any law firm, but while it is easy to convince rainmakers of the value of social media and blogging, it can be difficult to get them to change the way they do business. They have found something that works, and they usually stick to it.
Bringing about innovation within a law firm requires a steady drumbeat. It requires creating a group of champions who can come together on a regular basis and share their successes and challenges. These group meetings create accountability, but they also motivate the group. It requires providing the group with the tools to use social media effectively — blogs, access to social networks from work computers and liberal to nonexistent oversight. It means providing them with the right resources and then getting out of the way.
Even if your firm has more digital dinosaurs than digital natives, there is still hope. The great thing about technology is that as it advances, it becomes easier to use. Social media are more accessible today than ever. This means that no matter when you were born, you may still have the potential to make a great social media champion for your organization.
Adrian Dayton is an attorney, speaker, social media trainer and coach to law firms. You can grab a free chapter of his latest book, LinkedIn & Blogs for Lawyers (West 2012, co-authored by Amy Knapp) using the form here: http://adriandayton.com, or follow him on Twitter @adriandayton. If your firm has launched a new blog, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to have it added to the list.