How to Train Your Lawyer – 8 tips from the front lines

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Social media is mature enough these days as an engagement tool to have real legal risk associated with it.  With legal risk comes the need for good legal counsel.  And you guessed it, lawyers.  The problem isn’t getting their attention, the problem is training them and helping them understand this space and its differences.  Training them may be just as problematic as training a dragon:

Training your lawyer to understand these new engagement possibilities isn’t all that hard.  They should want you to succeed, because they will be evaluated on enabling that success.  So you have a willing participant.  The other thing about having a lawyer on your side is their exposure to more aspects of your brand.  They may be aware of projects in early stages that you have no idea of.  Think of them as covert operatives gaining intelligence about things that you can help with, or efforts that are in opposition to the engagement strategies you have working.

Here are some suggestions on a training regimen for you to use with them:

    1. Teach them about how your Brand is using these technologies.  They probably already know about Facebook, Twitter, etc.  What they don’t know is how using it as a brand differs from using it as a user.
    2. Give them access to the tools you use.  This could have been more of the first thing, but I think it is a little different.  Trusting them not to do anything negative is a hurdle you need to get over.  They will probably be really scared, anyway, so I wouldn’t worry about this too much.  Part 2 of this is to get them to use some of the other dashboard tools that are out there.  Something like HootSuite may be a good start for them.  In addition to seeing one glimpse into a professional tool, it will also allow them to engage more in social themselves.
    3. Invite them to hear vendor presentations.  As social tools become more prevalent, you will be courted by various vendors selling their tools and services.  Invite your lawyer along.  They may even ask questions you hadn’t thought of.
    4. Invite them to job shadow.  Offer to spend a day with them doing what you normally do.  If someone on your team monitors the Twitter stream to see what is being said about your brand, let them work with that person.  They will see how fast information goes in this space.  The same things go for all the other platforms on which you operate.  If you manage any communities internally, let them see that too.
    5. Set up alerts for them.  The worst thing to hear from a lawyer is “I wish I would have known about that earlier.”  Help them get some early warnings from the tools you use.  For internal communities, this can help them identify conversations that are legally problematic (illegal sales practices, for instance) early enough to avoid problems.  For external communities, this can also help them see issues at an early stage.  If your legal department is bigger than your one lawyer, they will want to brief their counterparts at the earliest appropriate time.  The worst thing for a lawyer to hear from another lawyer is “why didn’t you tell me about this earlier?”
    6. Offer training to the legal department on social.  Help your lawyer do his job of training their colleagues.  Again, if your legal department is of any size, they all need to know about these technologies.  It won’t be too long before social becomes integrated so much that every lawyer will need to understand this and accept it.  Think about how e-mail and the web changed things for the legal profession and where we are now.
    7. Invite them to staff meetings and outings.  Make them a real part of your team.  Enjoying some social time (pun intended) will allow them to connect with all members of your team.  Having them at staff meetings allows them to issue spot early in the process.
    8. Give them resources to learn from.  They may be struggling with the complexities of applying old law to this new area.  There are lawyers out there that are thinking about these issues already.  Blogs like this one can be a resource to get them thinking more about the issues.  Also give them resources about social as well.  Pick your favorite industry blogs, twitter feeds, etc and give that list to them.  Maybe one day they will scoop you on the newest meme to pop up.  If your lawyer is able to do that, you will have succeeded in truly making them one of your own.

Engaging with lawyers may be scary.  They typically only show up when something is wrong, right?.  The nice thing about in-house counsel (your brand’s attorneys) is that they should be engaged on a continuous basis, not just the crises.  In-house counsel have a unique opportunity to be a member of the business.  Still, most folks at a company do not see meetings with lawyers as a positive thing.

There is too much legal risk in this space to ignore it, and you will need a lawyer to work through the issues if you want to know what those risks are.  The other way to learn is to watch all the horror stories out there and design against those.  Unfortunately, if this is how you choose to learn, you may very well become one of those horror stories.

If you have any lawyers at your company and you are in this space, you may already have a relationship with them.  If you don’t ask for one.  Ask for help.  Follow this simple program and get yourself an ally as you push the envelope in what you are doing and how you are doing it.  If you do this and these things, you will be able to rest easy as you implement new campaigns.  Don’t you want to rest easy and just do your job?

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