Be a Twitter Scout and Make Some Rain: How to Use Priceless News & Opinion to Build Your Practice

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Almost every day, whether I am coaching, consulting or just chatting with other lawyers, I am asked this question (often with unveiled scorn amusement), in some form or another:


“Oh come on Betsy, isn’t Twitter just a waste of time, a place for teens to post inappropriate photos—a place to follow Miley Cyrus, Rihanna, American Horror Story, and the Pope?”

My answer is a flat and heartfelt “NO”. And here’s why:

I went pretty much native, digitally at least, in 2010.  In 2009, after almost 25 extraordinary years as a law firm partner, I decamped to start my business providing career development coaching.  I used a new Mac and assorted Geniuses to build a website and I refined my business development training curriculum through a Ning-powered participant worksite.

But I truly crossed over in 2010:  I renovated my presence on LinkedIn (complete with group memberships and several rather pompous status posts), adopted a dignified Twitter handle, started and sporadically populated a brand new blog, built out my online professional network (and converted it to personal connections),  and began to understand, and preach, the enormous utility of social media and other Internet tools for the lawyers– young and old–and law students I was coaching.

My breathless hills-are-alive wonderment at the results of all this online activity was observed with alarm by my three daughters, who texted their disdain (Twitter, Mom? like… seriously?).  This I expected.  Making fun of one another is a four-season sport in our family.  

What surprised me was the number of smart, savvy, competent and competitive friends, colleagues and former partners who have ignored the prodigious power of social media, especially high-end opinion blogs and private rapid-information platforms like Twitter, whose purest and best use is to educate, inform and alert–often ahead of everyone else.

So, is Twitter a terrible time-suck waste of time? 


Consider this excerpt from a Quora answer posted by Bill Gross, founder of IdeaLab:

“I find that I am getting more valuable and timely information from the people I follow on Twitter than almost any other news source…. Twitter has become… like a newspaper … dynamically configured perfectly for me.”

I am reminded of a beloved partner at my firm who flatly refused to use email, preferring to issue take-a-memo styled responses through his refined, formidable, and equally beloved assistant. Much is forgiven those – like him – who generate many millions of dollars in revenues. But a word of caution: Bucking progress is definitively less charming absent robust receipts and highly leveraged billable hours.  Ultimately, it is bad business to reject efficient new technologies.

News splash screen

So, for the lawyers and law students out there who have not yet caught on, I have some exceptionally good advice–and it does not require you to post a single Tweet (at least not until you an important prospect gets active in the blogosphere).  In fact, the best thing to do now is to relax, live large, and “lurk”….but thoughtfully, and with purpose.

Be a News Scout: Network with News and Opinion

First, a few truths:

  • It is the rare young lawyer or business professional who will succeed, much less survive, without a vigorous professional network.
  • Successful networking and business generation depend in large part on one’s ability to add value and, over time, to become indispensable.
  • The best way to build relationships is to help others advance their careers and personal agendas.  To roughly quote more than one direct tweet I’ve received from the notorious Hokies fan, Cordell Parvin,  “What can I do to help you advance your career?”   The thing is, he means it. Cordell is both rainmaker and gifted coach because he really does want to know the answer, he will indeed help if he can and he sincerely enjoys doing so, whatever the return.  (And like me, he practiced law for decades.  Honestly, we do know what we’re talking about.)
  • Finally, one simple and highly effective method for adding value, especially for the unproven young professional, is to become an effective scout and “curator” — the purveyor of superior information.  One of the best ways there is to become indispensable.
Calamity_Jane_with_gun (1)

Calamity Jane, Pro Scout

Unfortunately, in my experience, no browser, RSS reader or other compilation filters the web’s wealth of data both simply and effectively.

  • For example, even a carefully refined Google search, inevitably algorithm-bound and SEO-slanted, is likely to steer me to the most popular (often banal or shallow) answers, the mainstream view or the potentially inaccurate, though democratic, wiki-response.
  • Bing and Google searches rarely generate the results I really need— links to current, cutting-edge, thought-provoking and imaginative blogs and other online media.
  • “Google Alerts” are great in concept, but, in my experience, the results are bizarrely slow, and never, ever comprehensive.
  • And no amount of tinkering yields a Google Search that is ”dynamically configured perfectly for me”.

The immense and unwieldy internet offers a super-abundance of broad-spectrum, as-it-happens news and information, ranging in value from priceless to middling to worthless to false.  It provides wonderful opportunities to assist or command the attention of prospects and clients alike.  I want breaking coverage of political, business, and other news, of the shaky state of the legal profession, of innovations in legal education and training, of women’s careers and Gens Y and X.  I want information about the places, ideas, people, companies, sports, hometowns, and other things of meaning to key members of my professional network.  I can neither learn from, nor trade in, old news.

A digression regarding the Fifth Estate.  I can’t help myself:

Over the past couple of years the mainstream media has decided that the exorbitant cost, and questionable value, of a JD is–officially, at long last- “news”.  They also have concluded that the inefficacies of the large firm business model, the “tyranny of the billable hour”, and the “disruptive innovators” competing for a piece of the legal market, also, finally, constitute “news”.  As is often the case, the print media comes way, way late to the game.

The surplus of lawyers and law schools, the dearth of women and people of color among law firm equity partners, the astronomical levels of student tuition debt,  the distorted employment opportunities and  inadequate practical training lawyers facing both students and practicing lawyers, and the increasing challenges to hour-based fees and compensation, have for years been headlined and hyperlinked in the blogosphere and on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.

And as if tardiness were not sufficient insult, the mainstream media has yet to add much of interest to the conversation.

My point:   My best shot at scooping the targeted news and information I need before it gets stale is to read the links tweeted by the smart, creative, opinionated and occasionally offbeat and relatively unknown thinkers I choose to follow on Twitter, and to follow the niche-Tweets of the top newswire services (who more and more frequently herald breaking news first on Twitter, before posting the actual news stories on their websites).

Overwhelming?    No. Everyone can do this and do it well.

With a few hours invested in start-up (identifying good people and news services to follow, and organizing them into Twitter lists–just follow the Twitter prompts), a quality dashboard application (I recommend Hootsuite–again, follow the prompts), an informed and zealous guide (we are everywhere), and a regular commitment of time and discipline, you can channel Twitter, and other rapid-information platforms, to serve up data, opinions, advice, and predictions of broad value to your clients, prospects and other key contacts, often at light speed.

If you are nimble and alert, you can deploy this wealth of knowledge to build and deepen critical relationships, and to stay “top of mind” for those who live and work at a distance or are otherwise difficult to access in person.

Two crucial caveats:

  • Social media assisted networking and business generation enhances and enables, but cannot substitute for, disciplined, inspired, follow-up and personal contact. (And by inspired, I mean something over and above “random acts of lunch or dinner”.)
  • Before you consider upgrading your online networking strategy, be sure you know what your audience needs to hear, see and learn.  Listen—to them and to their colleagues and employers and the word on the street about their companies and industries.  Know what they think about, what they read, what they hope for, and what keeps them up at night.   Don’t pitch them yet.  Do not under any circumstances launch into your “elevator speech”.  Just ask good questions and listen hard to the answers.

    Screen Shot 2013-11-03 at 3.38.58 PM
    And then
     go forth and be their much needed web filter, their “curator”.

    Be their favorite scout.

    Watch for ways to help, and ways to protect.  At a minimum you’ll learn to speak the language of their careers, a critical step in developing any business relationship and in winning the confidence of a potential client or referral source.

    As my first born would now remark, eyebrows arched:

    Just sayin’.

 

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