Social media, mobile technology and globalisation have revolutionised the way lawyers engage with clients. As we move further away from traditional methodologies, the pressure is on legal practitioners to listen, learn and adapt core communication skills to meet clients’ needs.
More than ever before, meeting client communication needs is integral to effective relationship management. Gone are the days of clients expecting faxes, landline calls or postal communication. The next generation now demands searchable and shareable PDFs, texts, Skype calls, emails and tweets. Clients are busier, their lives are faster, attention spans have changed and so too have expected response times.
Attracting and retaining clients in a competitive, global market means law firms need more innovative ways to secure effective client engagement. In addition to understanding the fundamentals of legal practice, practitioners are now expected to encompass a plethora of commercial, marketing and soft skills including social media, legal project analysis, management and negotiation skills.
Social media is here to stay
A 2014 report released by BRR Media revealed “social media is now firmly etched in the communications landscape of Australian law firms with almost all of the top 100 Australian law firms engaging in some form of social media activity”. According to the findings, 83 per cent of firms are actively using at least one of the major social media channels and almost 90 per cent of firms have a presence on LinkedIn.
Social media allows lawyers to amplify their professional reputation, and if used responsibly it can be a powerful way to engage in collaborative conversations. Listening, commenting, replying and sharing information via private messaging on LinkedIn or direct messaging on Twitter is now replacing the traditional networking night. Communication is fast, sharp, direct and less verbose than traditional methods.
The collaborative experience
According to the report, firms are increasingly using new mediums like video to engage with clients, peers and potential recruits. Around 29 per cent of firms have an active YouTube account, with listening and communicating via short-video recording such as Vsnap or videoconferencing such as Skype also emerging as new forms of client engagement. The visual aspect provides a more personal touch, helping build rapport more quickly than traditional forms of communication.
The report also revealed that the most underutilised social media platform is Google+, with only 9 per cent of firms using it. However, this is expected to change in the future, with Google+ offering a powerful collaborative experience and a fast and effective way to create private community circles. These circles can be individually set up for each client, group of clients, lawyers or external experts, subject to comments, re-shares and security parameters being strictly disabled.
Respecting professional parameters
From a practice-administration perspective, engaging using new technologies helps practitioners connect and exchange information almost instantly at little or no cost. In terms of confidentiality or privacy, the new methods of communication, when used responsibly, are just as secure as traditional avenues.
As the social media landscape changes, so too must the legal sector in its soft-skill methodologies, with flexibility and adaptability becoming essential in order to meet clients’ more informed and commercially astute demands. Keeping up with the changing ways in which we communicate means keeping an open mind – and placing the client’s best interests before your own.
Listening to clients and communicating and collaborating in the ways clients prefer, as opposed to what practitioners are accustomed to, will ultimately attract, retain and build better client relationships.