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Attorneys quickly adapting to new ways of communicating

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These days, it seems like everyone's twittering. Now, even attorneys are getting into the Web 2.0 act.

Law firms, both big and small, are discovering the advantages of using the various forms of new media to network and to market themselves.

Local firms Procopio, Cory, Hargreaves & Savitch and the Catalyst Law Group have Twitter accounts and Facebook pages, while national firms DLA Piper and Foley & Lardner are among those who tweet as well.

"It's just the nature of the San Diego marketplace," said Kristen Di Zinno, Procopio's marketing director. "Our clients are young and entrepreneurial, so we're hitting our target market. We have to change with the times."

Catalyst Law Group officials also see it as a way of connecting with their client base, which mostly includes startups and entrepreneurs.

"There are new ways of getting information and, particularly for young people, electronically is the way you go," said Tom Jurgensen, Catalyst's founder and managing partner. "I see businesses working in this way too, particularly in the technology-related (field). You have a lot of young folks working in these businesses, and they rely on this media a lot."

San Diego attorney Lisa Haile, co-chair of DLA Piper's global life sciences sector, has her own Twitter account, in which she tweets on topics both professional and social.

In less than four months, she's already attracted more than 1,470 followers.

"As far as my practice, it's been unbelievable because of its global reach," she said. "I'm corresponding with people in England and Australia, and they're commenting back to me.

"It's obviously a pretty powerful way to get your news out far beyond the contacts you have within the firm. It's really a way to get information out there and show you have some sort of expertise, in a way I think that all the marketing dollars in the world could never do."

On her Twitter page, she links to her bio on DLA's Web site, and she typically re-tweets postings from the firm's two Twitter accounts.

Like Haile, most law firms typically use Twitter and Facebook to drive traffic to their Web sites.

Di Zinno said as soon as a news item is posted on Procopio's Web site, the firm posts a link to it on Twitter. The results have been positive and immediate.

The firm opened its Twitter account May 18 and it's already the No. 4 source for attracting visitors to its Web site behind Google, people going directly to the site and Yahoo.

Di Zinno said she noticed that people coming to the Web site from Twitter are visiting more pages and staying longer.

"People are more likely to go to Twitter and get all of their information from one site," she said. "It's really communicating the way most of our clients are communicating."

Catalyst's Jurgensen said he's also trying out other networking sites like Plaxo and the lawyer-specific site Avvo.

"I believe you have to adapt to new changes in the marketplace," he said. "You can't wait, and frankly, a lot of law firms are this way; they tend to be slow adapters. I didn't want to be a slow adapter. The only things I wish I had were more resources to put in, but we're small. I think we're doing a good job."

Firms like Procopio and Catalyst are part of a quickly accelerating trend nationwide.

Approximately 96,000 attorneys have joined Linkedin, a popular networking site for professionals, since the beginning of the year.

"That's not a fad, that's a tidal wave," said Stephen Fairley, CEO of The Rainmaker Institute, a Phoenix-based national marketing firm for attorneys. "For attorneys to adopt anything like that in such a massive fashion (is amazing). Attorneys are slow adapters. They're not on the leading edge; they're on the receding edge.

"The general public has no idea how fast they're taking to it. Part of it is out of necessity."

One of the main reasons, of course, is the recession. It's hit law firms hard, with more than 3,000 "biglaw" attorneys getting laid off in the last year.

The shrinking work force has created increased competition for clients among those still in business. And, for the first time in their career, many practitioners are having to seek out clients.

According to the American Bar Association, there are 1.2 million attorneys in the United States, or approximately one for every 300 people. In California, there are 212,000 attorneys, or one for every 175 people.

"It's a highly competitive field," Fairley said. "There are 43,600 law school graduates every single year and everyone is looking for work. They're hungry and competitive. If you don't adapt, you go the way of the dinosaur."

Fairley said Web 2.0 is the best form of marketing because it's free -- minus the cost of your time -- and it has the potential to expand your platform exponentially.

"In this society, it's all about the size of your platform: who knows you, what you do and how you can help," he said. "The size of your platform equals the size of your bank account."

As an example, Avvo is the fasting growing legal directory in the country. In two years, it's already become the second-most trafficked online legal directory in the country behind lawyers.com. More than a million consumers visit Avvo each month looking for a lawyer.

Catalyst's Jurgensen said simply entering the social networking market isn't enough. It requires effort and a certain amount of attention.

"You can't just put it (a Facebook page) up there and expect it'll bring you business," he said. "You'll get activity and connect with people you know, but if you want to drive business, you need to be more active."

Linkedin, in which participants post their resumes and business contacts, is a popular forum for professionals.

DLA Piper's Haile said most of her colleagues have Linkedin accounts, but she gets some interesting looks when she mentions Twitter.

"Most haven't been on," she said. "They think it purely is a social thing and a waste of time."

In addition to informing people about the firm, Twitter can be a good way to gather news, according to Haile.

"I can get most of my news through Twitter if I follow the right people," she said. "For individual attorneys, it's an incredible mechanism for staying up-to-date about your clients, but also about your practice area and your industry."

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