Almost half of partners and staff at the typical top 50 law firm are now on LinkedIn, nearly double the number in 2010, new research has found.
The findings – which urge firms to focus on the professional network ahead of Twitter – comes as the Law Society publishes the first formal guidance to solicitors on the use of social media.
PR firm Kelso Consulting said that of around 85,000 partners and employees in the top 50 law firms, over 40,000 (47%) now have LinkedIn accounts, while the number of people following the firms on LinkedIn doubled over the year to nearly 50,000.
Olswang (68%) and Charles Russell (64%) were found to have the highest LinkedIn usage, with Berrymans Lace Mawer (21%) the worst, followed by Slaughter and May and pre-merger Beachcroft (both 27%).
However, the research did not assess how active the accounts were. “It is clear that while many professionals have adopted LinkedIn enthusiastically, and have large numbers of contacts and use it regularly, there are plenty of agnostics with LinkedIn accounts,” admitted Kelso owner Tim Prizeman.
While the business media’s attention has been on Twitter, Mr Prizeman said “it is LinkedIn that fee-earners and their clients are much more likely to be using”, arguing that it now a mainstream application for lawyers.
He said: “It is a reflection on the poor state of the econ
omy that LinkedIn’s use has increased so dramatically over just 12 months. LinkedIn is all about staying in contact with past and present colleagues and clients, and most lawyers know referrals from these are the best source of new clients, so using it is a logical step in our austere economy.
“Many business owners as well as senior executives have LinkedIn accounts too and regularly use other social media. Many will not be impressed by lawyers with Luddite attitudes towards technology who then claim to be providing leading-edge legal advice, nor will high-flying graduates.”
Mr Prizeman advised firms that are currently lagging behind on LinkedIn use not to expect “a few memos and a breakfast seminar” to change things overnight. “Instead aim to walk and then trot before you can run: first take stock, building internal allies, and establish a clear plan and business case.”
The Law Society practice note  highlights various benefits of using social media – including profile, engagement with clients, marketing and reaching a wider audience – but also lists risks such as defamation and breaching confidentiality.
Examples of the latter include whether connecting with a client on LinkedIn could breach confidentiality simply by acknowledging the link with them; or comments on Twitter that you are in a certain location at a certain time, which could “inadvertently disclose that you are working for a client”.
It suggests that firms should consider having a social media policy – smaller firms, which may not need a written policy, should “think about electing one individual to be responsible for overseeing social media activity”.