The Blog Formerly Known As Practical Paralegalism
When I ask colleagues why they aren’t using social media, some respond that that they fear becoming overwhelmed by the potential distractions and a seemingly unlimited information stream. Others worry that they’re already investing too many hours in their professional lives and wonder how they can add social media – without sacrificing quality time, both at work and at home.
Using social media doesn’t have to become a second job or a digital addiction, like video gaming or Farmville. Social media includes professional networking sites and law blogs (or “blawgs”) which provide the latest legal news, technology and practice tips. But too many legal professionals still aren’t using these invaluable interactive Internet resources.
It’s almost impossible to keep up with the rapid-fire changes in the way that we learn, practice law and network without using social media. But you can effectively manage your usage to keep up with the latest trends in your specialty areas and the ever-evolving technology that makes practicing law more efficient and economical – as well as to market your own expertise within the legal and wider community.
Here are a few ways that you can start using social media for career development, and have it add to the quality of your professional life:
- Limit the time that you use it. Set aside specific times for social media activities, such as catching up on your favorite professional blogs and checking in on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. A quiet hour on a weekend is a great time to catch up on your blog reading and to get inspiration from some of the greatest legal minds in the country. Taking a mid-morning and mid-afternoon break at work to quickly review your Twitter stream can be as stimulating and enjoyable for your mind as getting out of the office and taking a quick walk around the block is for your body.
- Use an RSS reader. Set up an RSS feed reader to subscribe to your favorite professional blogs, but limit your subscriptions to start with, to no more than a dozen blogs. An RSS (“Really Simple Syndication”) feed reader is news aggregation software that publishes updates from websites that you designate, including blogs and news headlines, in an easy-to-read format. Using an RSS feed, such as one of the most popular and easy-to-use feeds, Google Reader, will insure that you don’t miss any blog posts. You can read them at your convenience, as well as tag and label your favorites for future reference.
- Comment on blog posts. If you find that you enjoy legal blogs, but don’t want to make the time commitment required to maintain a blog of your own, you can still be a part of the blogging community. Develop your professional network and share your expertise by leaving comments at others’ blog posts that interest you. If you have information that you want to share, without committing to a weekly writing schedule, offer to do a guest post for a blog that matches your professional expertise. Most bloggers love to have other talented professionals that they can count on for occasional guest posts.
- Keep your LinkedIn profile up to date. Check your LinkedIn account at least once a week. Post an updated status report about a professional activity you’re involved in, and contribute to a group discussion if you have information that is helpful. Extend contact invitations to other LinkedIn users that you’ve met during the week, physically or virtually, and consider extending invitations to people you may not have met, but whose work you admire, such as authoring an article you found helpful. (But state the reason for the invitation when you send it.)
- Maintain a professional Facebook presence. Set up a professional profile on Facebook (or use your personal profile professionally, although this is trickier), and let your friends and colleagues know about it. Check on it at least once a week, and provide an update regarding your professional activities, or a link to a news article related to your specialty area. You never know when someone in your Facebook network will need legal services and be reminded by your professional page that your firm provides them.
- Use Twitter as a news feed. Twitter offers extensive networking and learning opportunities for legal professionals. Even if you don’t have time to use it as a conversational or networking tool and don’t want to acquire many followers of your own, you can still use it as a learning tool. Limit the professionals that you follow on Twitter to a manageable number who tweet the information most helpful to you and your specialty areas. Use Twitter applications like TweetDeck or HootSuite (or mobile Twitter apps if you have a smartphone) to make Twitter usage more efficient, to easily follow the fast-moving Twitter stream and to set up multiple search columns for the topics that most interest you.
Social media used effectively won’t take over your life or chain you to your laptop an extra 30 hours per week, but it can enrich your professional life in ways that you never imagined. Don’t be afraid of it, and make a place for it in your life.