Here I was in the middle of a blog post about fair use on Pinterest when up on my Twitter feed pops the blog post Kill All The Lawyers by Todd Defren. I like Todd’s posts but this one needed a response.
First, I get that this was a vent by Todd because he’s probably dealing with a difficult attorney. I’ve been there (dealing with them, or maybe some clients who thought I was one although I try hard not to be). But Todd is too smart to use this Shakespeare line. The infamous line about killing attorneys comes from Henry VI, Part II and is delivered by a supporter of a rebel who wants to create total chaos and then claim the crown for himself. The line is actually Shakespeare praising attorneys for defending the rules and laws that make a civilization possible. But that point gets lost on, oh, just about everyone who hears the line but hasn’t read the play. So, Todd, instead of reading the play (but you should, it’s a good one) then just know you’re taking the quote out of context. It would be like quoting the Howard Beale speech from Network thinking that he was mad that the window was closed in the first place.
But the majority of Todd’s post is about running into difficult attorneys over social media issues. That’s a tricky one to address, but let me give a few bits of advice for you non-lawyers who may be dealing with attorneys on social media issues.
1. They may not be involved in social media. That is not their fault, unless it’s their primary practice. But you should take that as an opportunity to teach them about social media. Lawyers, for the most part, love to learn. And social media is a topic that virtually all lawyers have heard about even if they don’t know a tweet from a pin. So show them what it is you want to do, show them the platform, show them some of those slick infographics about the benefits to a brand or the explosion in usage. Having information is never a bad thing.
2. They may know something you don’t. Now, that isn’t enough by itself–they should tell you what they know, or enough so that you know why there may be an issue or why they are saying no in the first place. But I’ve faced plenty of times where I’ve had to say no to a client but I’ve explained why we can’t do something. Sometimes it’s a tricky legal issue, sometimes it’s a simple issue being presented by a client who hasn’t thought things through (yes, I’m being generous). Those are all opportunities for education as well.
3. There is almost always a solution. If your lawyer just tells you no and walks away, get another lawyer. Instead, lawyers (especially in-house ones) should be able to give you alternatives. I’m not saying you’ll like them all, but hopefully you’ll start to understand the issues the lawyer is trying to avoid and be able to come up with a solution together.
I will say there are things in Todd’s post that ring true, especially about the speed of reviewing content for social media. It’s tough to say if Todd’s complaint about reviewing a tweet is appropriate or not because there are a lot of factors–is the client in a regulated industry, was the tweet part of a registered promotion (like a sweepstakes), did it involve an issue the company had recently been sued over, etc. But any lawyer practicing in social media will be able to work with their clients to figure out which posts need reviewing and which posts, if they follow certain guidelines, can be done immediately.
Finally, Todd mentions that in his experience social media lawyers are getting worse. I can’t speak to Todd’s experience, but in my own experience I think things are getting better. Lawyers are very interested in the topic–I’ve spoken at conferences filled with eager attorneys wanting to know about social media legal issues. When I’ve offered classes to my own legal department I’ve been amazed at the number of attorneys who wanted to learn about the subject by taking time away from their other work. But I think that’s encouraging the legal groups are starting to identify the legal concerns in this emerging field.
Many of the legal concerns are not new, instead we have a new arena in which the issues are taking shape. No, it’s not the wild, wild west–I hate that analogy and I’ll blog why later. But we are seeing the intersection of law and technology subtly impact each other and that’s fascinating. That is a collision of two powerful forces so it’s understandable that some strong whirlpools of churn can spin off, trapping Todd and others occasionally.
But instead of overreacting with an out-of-context Shakespeare quote, let’s try to educate each other about the concerns and make all of our lives easier.