Wednesday, 16 September 2015

'Law Librarians! I want to make your role more interesting’ - #MmIT2015 Conference

Me looking professional
This is the full text of the talk I gave at the MmIT 2015 Conference 'With Power Comes Great Responsibility - How librarians can Harness the Power of Social Media for the Benefit of their Users'. This is a subject very close to my professional heart and I hope you will forgive me the length of this post.


‘I want to make your role more interesting’ was one of the more unusual things that a lawyer has said to me in my twenty year career as a law librarian.

It was September 2013 and inspired by a talk given by commentator Helen Lewis, I had just written an article about internet trolls for my own wide ranging blog. I mentioned this in passing to the lawyer heading up a newly formed Collyer Bristow team – the official sounding ‘Cyber Investigations Unit’. This concentrates on assisting victims of cyber stalking, online harassment and abuse. After a read of my article,  he decided to make ‘trolling’ the topic of the next firm’s Cyber Matters newsletter. 

Summer of that year had seen unprecedented levels of social media harassment – do you remember Caroline Criado Perez and the £10 bank note furore? As well as the ongoing abuse of Anita Sarkeeisan and the dawn of Gamergate which continues to rumble on? The misogynous and offensive trolling of Mary Beard and Stella Creasy? As a law firm we wondered how we could engage those affected, and explore how the law in its current form could offer an adequate solution to victims. 

Up until that point my role within the firm had been traditional library provision; current awareness, legal and business research as required, managing the collection and ensuring everyone had what they needed to do their job effectively. It’s not that I was reluctant to get involved with writing content for newsletters or the website, it’s just I assumed that as Library and Information Manager, I was lacking in the relevant qualifications.

The lawyer, as usual, was happy to tell me I was wrong.

As I go along it should be apparent how a discovery of unexpected skills have enriched my role and ultimately benefitted the firm and clients. I want to demonstrate to you that as librarians, we owe it to our users to take responsibility for our considerable powers, especially in relation to communications. But my tale does have a cautionary aspect.

Incidentally the fact that I write about social media – for a legal team with a social media focus – making use of social media to boost readership, is just a coincidence. Even if I was writing about property, art, or copyright law issues for my firm, I would be making use of social media to publicise this new content.

In light of what I’m going to say, social media is first and foremost a personal interest rather than something entirely work related. It remains personal because I enjoy sharing knowledge with people who have common interests. I have made many friends in London through Twitter and when I was studying, I was able to exchange ideas and make connections with people all over the world. I personally blog, tweet, use Facebook and class myself has an experienced user. Professionally I’ve always used LinkedIn, as it is good for maintaining and developing business connections and good practice.

As an embedded member of the CIU team, not only do I attend and organise regular meetings, but I also organise speakers to come talk to us about technical matters I produce regular written material for that section of our website. Due to my practical knowledge of social media, I offer a ‘how (not) to’ angle. I have covered blogging, election campaigning, and the naming of victims of crime on the web, and most recently the Ashley Madison hacking and the deep web.

As their librarian I am expected to explain related concepts, keep abreast of new technological developments, anticipate and spot social media trends, and monitor parliamentary debate around the subject. In this way the lawyers contribute their own legal specialisms - intellectual property, data protection and reputation management issues – on the strength of the information I feed them.

Law firms and social media

At this juncture it would be helpful to say a few words about law firms and social media. Even though few of you work in this area, I’m sure that some attitudes will be familiar in your organisations. I have found the recent Taylor & Francis White paper to be helpful in drawing comparisons.

Lawyers are notoriously slow in embracing new technologies. It’s not that they don’t have access to financial and people resources to implement them, but it’s perhaps more a failure in imagination. Although creative and clever within their own specialities, the inherent aversion to risk is an occupational requirement and hazard.

Although most lawyers are excellent at creating content for newsletters, journals, and client briefings, readership of this valuable knowhow used to be quite low unless it appeared in the ‘serious’ legal press. So they need someone within the firm who feels confident using social media, who will see past the negative aspects and use it as an opportunity to build a brand online. Social media has offered lawyers a new direct way of reaching a wider audience of potential new clients and contacts. 

There is growing evidence that law firms are getting much better at this. Experts like information managers and business development specialists are working together to find out what lawyers want to convey in their marketing. Librarians are generally very good at talking to people whilst skilfully extracting what might be perceived as woolly information. Making sense of what lawyers say and want and making it into any kind of strategy can be a challenge.

Again firms opt for LinkedIn. I find this very interesting having read the Taylor & Francis report which completely omits LinkedIn for libraries. For instance, a library like the City Business Library rightly has a large presence on LinkedIn because many of their clientele will be on there. However I was surprised to find that London School of Economics Library didn’t have a LinkedIn page. It just proves that which social media you choose to engage with will depend very much on your audience – given the amount of time each one takes to maintain, it’s best to opt for the ones that have a better fit.

But it’s not all plain sailing and - rightly or wrongly - not everyone will be convinced. Sceptical expert Larry Port says in this guide, ‘if you find yourself right now spending a couple of hours a week on social media and have a nagging suspicion that your strategy has little return for your efforts your probably right and should switch gears…’. I have found that lawyers do not appreciate the amount of time it takes to become a true Twitterer because you have to work on relationships. Building up and maintaining a circle of people who will enrich your online profile is time consuming.

He admits that social media can be used for ‘true marketing awesomeness’ but says that spending an hour or two a week sending out tweets and posts, and brown nosing through mentions isn’t going to generate anything momentous. People who are successful at social media do it because they also love it. He concludes, ‘if you don’t like to blog tweet or post, or frankly if you’re not good at it, there are better ways to spend your time’.

The lack of enthusiasm reported by Larry Port is evident in many law firm Twitter feeds. They are dull. This is because they are not owned by one person, instead a team is tweeting press releases. Successful legal tweeters are individual lawyers, interesting characters who share legal nuggets, which a hefty dose of wit. 

Institutions also struggle with this balance and it is rare to get a corporate account which you would choose to follow because they make you laugh or think. One that springs to mind is the London Oxford Street Waterstones or the Innocent smoothie people, and Tescos customer services are interesting to observe – saying the right things, not just a corporate message.

Therefore if there is someone within your organisation who is a keen and talented writer, has the desire to cultivate an online persona, and is passionate about what the organisation does, then they are ideal to become the social media champion. If you’re tweeting as a library, your champion will think wider than just institution news, opening hours, or policies, but make it personal and interesting.

I was recognised as a social media champion early on. I have always reported to the most senior person in the firm, the Partnership Director, and about six years about we had a discussion about LinkedIn and its benefits. Taking my expertise into account, she asked me to contribute to the instructions for use and firm’s LinkedIn policy. This is now one of the most popular social networks for lawyers and other professionals.

It is important to target your audience by exploring all the different social media networks. Then pick just two to join. There are reasons why LinkedIn, Twitter, and blogging are more suitable than Facebook. And finding an appropriate voice on each platform is a challenge to those professionals who maintain distinctions between public and private personas. Given that LinkedIn has the firm’s official stamp of approval, it is straightforward to share legal updates and opinions with others, comment intelligently within groups, and maintain regular communications with contacts. Obviously comments on personal appearances should be avoided…

Blogging is a perfect home for lawyers because there is an opportunity to expand a 140 character limit tweet to a 500-600 word blog post. This is still too short for many lawyers but the better bloggers keep it short. Once you are creating, commissioning, or even just inspiring content for your organisation, it is very easy to build up a following. Whether this is through the firm’s own site, guest blogging for a specialist blog, or a current awareness and news aggregation site, either way is valid in generating traffic.

The blog that we most frequently write for is the International Forum for Responsible Media, (Inforrm for short) which was set up to debate issues of media responsibility and is the go-to blog for intelligent discussion on matters of privacy, libel, and social media.

So this is all very well but what do the stats say? 

We constantly measure Google and Lexology Analytics to see where the traffic is coming from, and how many hits we are getting. We need to demonstrate to Management that the time we spend on blogging and tweeting is having the desired effect. We also request regular figures from the Inforrm blog and The Lawyer.

Collyer Bristow is known for the work we did for the Leveson Inquiry and google searches sent a lot of traffic to our old website because of this. When we launched our new company website just over 12 months ago we had to start from scratch and ensure a return to previous form, which we easily have managed to do.
[I've omitted figures here - sorry]
  • The figures from Google Analytics from Jun 2014 to Jun 2015 show a healthy increase year on year.
  • The most visited ‘practice/sector’ page is ‘Cyber stalking’
  • Figures from Lexology for the same period show that it was a CIU/cyberstalking article on the Perils of Revenge Porn which had the most reads
  • As a comparator, the Inforrm blog shows that the Perils of Revenge Porn received five times as many hits on this blog. I am informed that this is the second highest read post. This demonstrates that if you get the right article on the right site at the right time, you can ensure a high number of hits.

What does this tell us?

CIU traffic dropped quite considerably from June 2014  to June 2015. The drop off in traffic demonstrates something very interesting and it absolutely confirms Larry Port’s scepticism. When there is a pause in content production, there is a corresponding fall in the number of visitors.

The Business Development team told me, ‘it has been difficult to come up with positive news comparing this year with last on the Cyber page as although the site was new, activity in that area was very strong on the site, so if you compare this June with last June, the last full month before the summer lull, there were actually more visits to the cyber page last year…however, there were no new cyber articles at all in June ‘15.

Any regular blogger will tell you if you are not adding content, traffic inevitably slows. It will never dry up completely because should clients, users, the public at large do the right search, they will find your archive material. In my firm’s case, should you do a search for ‘cyber harassment lawyers UK’ the firm comes up on the first page, which is a good thing!
June seems like a long time ago and as you all know, previous months’ statistics are just one side of the story. For me statistics serve as competition – can I beat that target this month? How do I recover from a dip? Happily my advice for putting out constant new content has been taken up by the partner and he has been badgering the team for articles since June. We have all obliged and I hope the persistence pays off.
In the middle of July news broke concerning a potential hack of a specialist adult website. This was fascinating from all points of view – international impact, legal issues, effect of social media on work, personal and family life, data protection and privacy breaches, deep web technology, reputation management fails all round. I decided that this needed an article as soon as possible. If the hackers carried out their threat, this could be important – or even if they didn’t, it was still a salutary lesson for companies dealing with personal data of a hugely sensitive kind.
When the inevitable happened in mid-August and the data became available on the deep web via Tor, we were prepared. A company press release was issued, my original article was updated with added material from the employment, family and dispute resolution teams, and I produced a further piece explaining what the deep web was and how it differed from the ‘ordinary’ web.
What effect did this have on the statistics?
As yet I don’t know how many hits we had on the Collyer Bristow in July and August, and it’s too early to tell for September. I know that if you do a google search for ‘ashley madison privacy UK lawyers london’ we appear on the first page of results.
Lexology analytics are more current than the BD stats I was given. The time period from June to September clearly demonstrate the value of continued quality content. Articles surrounding Ashley Madison achieved a high readership, meaning that over the last quarter CIU articles collectively generated more readership than any other department in the firm. This is despite the lull in June.

The Lawyer also provided statistics for August which shows a healthy number of page views and downloads for the initial article. Obviously the later updated one had limited hits simply because it was released at the end of August. I would hope that figure was greater in September.

Where is this going?

The statistics on readership are only part of the story. They can only measure page views, and at the end of the day the only meaningful figures my boss is interested in are the bottom line profits. Ultimately it is the translation of readers into clients or referrals that is key. However without the communication of our knowhow and specialities, those potential clients would never find us.

Most of the articles you read about social media begin by stressing the importance of strategy and conclude with the difficulty of measuring success. I can appreciate that it is important to include social media as part of a wider awareness raising strategy but only if you have the persistence and patience to do it well. As for whether you’re succeeding, that rather depends on what you want. Personally I am happy to get my articles read and have the CIU page as the most visited part of the website.

In preparation for this talk we were discussing the firm’s Instagram account which was set up to explore the art gallery in our reception area. This is a perfect example of using an appropriate social network to match a particular strength, in this case, visual. As most firms focus on the textual, this is potentially an interesting addition to the firm’s social media and online footprint.


As a result of our efforts should you google cyberstalking and lawyers, our Cyber Investigation Unit is high on the first page of results. By creating new and original legal commentary, we ensure that our webpage is frequently crawled.

The Taylor and Francis report concluded that ‘the shift of provision of library resources online has also brought about a huge shift in the role of the librarian – with this role becoming more integrated into the user communities within the institution. Feedback in our focus groups and interviews indicated that social media is seen as an important support tool for transitioning into this new role.’ 

I couldn’t agree more with that statement. Only by truly becoming embedded members of teams within our firms or institutions can we make any impact on their external standing and help make connections with our users or customers.

Law librarians are in a strange position. Perhaps others within the information profession see us as over-paid, fully appreciated, and our information centres as well resourced. We might even be viewed as an expensive luxury which librarians offering services to the public, health care professionals or academics and students can only dream of.

However life in legal services isn’t perfect. As commercial entities law firms are subject to economic down-turns, fierce competition, an ever changing legal framework, and a multitude of social pressures. We have recently seen the collapse of another Scottish firm, with devastating consequences for numerous support staff. Whether a firm has a solo librarian, or even a team of 10 information officers, we all have a responsibility to the success of the firm.

Recently Bloomberg Law President David Perla said 'librarians have a competency and expertise that lends itself to business development — they have the research skills to dig into business and industry information, and the analytical skills to forecast trends and their impacts on various areas of law. “Librarians are saying, ‘We can help a firm anticipate what a client is going to need. We can be ahead of the client,'”

So when the lawyer said he wanted to make my role more interesting, he was actually saying, I recognise that you can make a difference to the potential clients that we want to reach. My ability to take in a lot of information and spot trends, combined with excellent communication skills, meant that there was an exciting opportunity for me to contribute directly to the continued success of the firm. Although my usual library role continues, we should create and embrace new opportunities within our organisations; without my close interest in many aspects of social media, and without monitoring events in the press, I would not have taken on such a pivotal role.

1 comment:

  1. For our first episode of the podcast for product managers the Product Drama, we invited Harshil Paliwal to talk about the specifics of internal product launch and business process automation challenges.