Bridging the Gap Between Lawyers and Social Media Managers

TriplePundit is at SXSW this week, bringing you the latest thinking on CSR, social media, and more.

Our first dispatch: how to bridge the gap between the corporate social media types and the lawyers. What’s going on here, and why should you care?

If you’ve ever tried to launch, well, pretty much anything creative or novel in a company, you’ve probably encountered the most dreaded phase around: “Sounds good, we’ll just have to run it by Legal.” Cue screeching sound, as your cool new project grinds to a halt.

When we’re talking about social media, any potential problems are magnified by the possibility of all of these uncontrolled social media conversations. It’s not just your brand message that’s out there — it’s other people talking about your brand. Who knows what they’ll say? Easy enough to see how the lawyers might be a bit concerned.

In Bridging the Lawyer-Social Media Manager Divide, June Casalmir, Counsel for Consumer & Marketing Practices at Sprint Nextel, and Rich Pesce, Sr. Manager of Social Media and Digital Communications for Capital One, shared some strategies for finding common ground, even when the gap seems insurmountable.

Tips for Bridging the Lawyer/Social Media Divide

  1. Remember that social media is about relationships and storytelling. If you’re on the social side, use your storytelling skills to build relationships with the legal team. Explain your strategy, make the business case, and draw them in as a part of the team (not an adversary). Maybe lawyers are a necessary evil, but they do have a unique perspective on how hidden legal issues can impact your brand. Take advantage of this perspective, and you might even find some creative joint solutions!
  2. Meet early, meet often. Presenting a great new idea for engagement on a novel platform a day before launch is a recipe for disaster. Early, frequent meetings between the social media types and the lawyers will pay dividends later, when you need to get something out the door quickly.
  3. Prepare brown bag presentations, on both sides. To work together, lawyers need to understand what the social media people are trying to do, and the social media types have to understand basic legal issues. How to impart this information? Schedule regular brown bag lunches, where the lawyers are introduced to new (to them) social platforms (Foursquare, Pinterest, etc.), and the lawyers share enough legal background for the social media types to understand the key factual issues.
  4. Remind the lawyers that social media can help with risk management. Who’s more likely to become the lead plaintiff in a class action lawsuit? The disgruntled customer who got even angrier when his Tweet was ignored, or the mollified customer whose issue was quickly resolved by your digital customer service ninjas?
  5. Keep in mind that sometimes your lawyers have to say “No.” Given the choice, your lawyers want to say “Yes.” But sometimes they can’t. Their training gives them a unique perspective on how certain things might impact your brand, on a given platform. Particularly in regulated industries, there might be things you simply can’t do. But what you can do, as a non-lawyer, is come to the table with feasible solutions, which take into account the legal concerns. (And “I’m not a lawyer, but I think this is totally fine” is NOT a feasible solution. Your job is to provide the facts. Your lawyer’s job is to analyze the risks and provide a recommendation.) The more you know, the more likely it is that your proposed solutions will actually be feasible.

So, what legal issues pop up in social media land?

Useful Areas for Legal Training

Disclaimer: None of this is legal advice! Here are some key areas you’d be well-served to ask your lawyers to educate you about.

  1. Privacy. This is a biggie. The U.S. government is interested, and so’s the E.U. This is a rapidly developing area of law, and the norms are in flux. If you’re collecting, or sharing, any data about individuals, you need to pay attention to privacy issues.
  2. Legal rules on notice, disclosure, etc. Are you up to speed on the details of the FTC rules on blogger endorsements? How about the legal requirements of a sweepstakes vs. a contest? Like it or not, there are lots of rules on these things, and not all of them are obvious. (Who knew requiring K+ points in Klout might be considered a “purchase” for sweepstakes entry purposes?) Understanding the basics early allows you to shape your promotional strategies to avoid issues later.
  3. Intellectual property. Looking to start a company page on Pinterest? Have you thought about the copyright implications if you’re sharing other peoples’ images? Considering some YouTube parody videos to promote your new product? Are you sure your use is transformative? IP issues are everywhere. Make sure you’re informed enough to spot them, well in advance!

The bottom line is that everyone’s got to work together, like it or not. As a social media evangelist, educate your lawyers about the technologies you’d like to employ, explain exactly what you want to do (and how you plan to do it), and make the business case. As a lawyer, put aside the knee-jerk risk aversion and take the time to understand what social media can do for the company.

Working together, you can protect the brand, and still have that cool promotion on the hottest new platform!


Alison Monahan is a web developer, turned lawyer, turned entrepreneur. She runs The Girl’s Guide to Law School and co-founded the Law School Toolbox.

Alison Monahan is the founder of The Girl's Guide to Law School, and is a regular contributor to Triple Pundit and other blogs. She's a former patent litigator, an ex-web developer, and a trained architect. She writes and Tweets at the intersection of law, technology, design, and business, drawing on her unique background and experience to bridge these worlds for her readers.

6 responses

  1. It would be great to know how to bridge the gap between Lawyers and Social Media Managers. I think that it would make them to unite and build a better partners. I know that this information would encourage many Lawyers and Social Media Managers to become one.

  2. This is written from the perspective of how a non-lawyer should interact with a lawyer.  Is there any discssion going on in the other direction?
    I remember a few years ago the New York Times wrote an article how some medical institutions were trying something completely new: saying they were sorry when they made a mistake.  And the lawyers freaked out, saying this is suicide.  Surprise, the number of lawsuits when down, because people no longer felt so abused by “the system”.  Is there any sort of dialogue going on in law schools about how to manage the human side of the equation?

    1. Some, but not enough. This panel was interesting, because June is a lawyer, and talked about how the lawyers need to be more open to novel ideas and approaches. But the profession as a whole, and the schools, in general, are incredibly closed off and risk-averse.

      As just one example, a (I thought fairly innocuous) post about how law students would be well-served to establish a social media presence via blogging and other forms of social media ended up causing a bit of a firestorm about the potential unauthorized practice of law: When the legal profession is that paranoid about the downside risks of new ways of interacting (which, admittedly exist to a certain extent), we’ve got a long way to go!

  3. We see the other side of the equation pretty frequently. Working with organizations in highly regulated industries (FinServ, Pharma, Healthcare, gov, etc.) on leveraging social media, the legal teams are deeply aware of the vulnerabilities the company exposes themselves to by opening up to the use of social – and not just the “use” of social, but the unmonitored or unregulated use. On top of security concerns there are complex compliance requirements. Despite internal policies surrounding best practices for social media use, the people posting can do so (usually) from inside corporate walls irrespective of what policies say and therefore, the organization is at risk of accepting blame for whatever posters put out there. We see many lawyers who not only understand the value and importance of social, but who are socially savvy themselves. Many have personal blogs, Twitter feeds, FB pages, etc. Their main concern revolves around how to enable the use of social in a way that not only protects their organizations but the people that work there. We’re not all the way there yet but we’re seeing immense progress.  – Melisa Bleasdale, Actiance

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