An IT director at a top 20 firm bet The Lawyer features editor Matt Byrne last week that he could get the phrase ’leveraging their centricities’ into his story on Clifford Chance teaming up with Microsoft. As none of us knew what that meant we couldn’t oblige, but it neatly illustrates the semantic gulf between IT strategists and lawyers.
It has long been an iron law of legal practice that developments in IT are largely incomprehensible to the vast majority of practitioners, but as any fule kno, they underpin the delivery of legal services. With law becoming ever more process-driven, the geeks are in the ascendancy.
Lawyers’ propensity for seeing IT systems as mere kit rather than what that kit represents is replicated in the widespread attitude to social media in the legal profession. Last week The Lawyer.com ran a story about a digital agency’s ranking of law firm activity on Twitter, with Allen & Overy coming out top. Norton Rose, whose Twitter activity on its main account amounts to precisely zero, was also ranked - much to the disgust of the many lawyers who are active on Twitter. I wish I had space to list all those who contributed online to that topic, but I urge you to seek out a blog on the issue by FT general counsel Tim Bratton, who tweets as @legalbrat. It is required reading on the issue.
Many of the lawyers leading the way here are from smaller firms that do not have quite the same corporatised fear of the disruptive potential of social media. While larger firms fear the loss of control the medium implies, that is to miss the point. The idea that a message can be broadcast and received as some sort of elegant soliloquy is outdated; social media, for all its faults, allows proper dialogue that ordinary email does not.
Of course, the larger firms that have institutionalised clients have no need to develop their business online in terms of chasing mandates. But in terms of getting involved in debates on legal topics it has an extraordinary potential. Given that so many firms are starting to think seriously about thought leadership, they should think about this.
And yes, we’re on Twitter too; you can follow us on twitter.com/thelawyermag. Give it a go.