Face off: law firms and social media

Law firms are jumping on the social media bandwagon but, as the Lawyer 2B Big Student Survey reveals, students aren’t too happy about the encroachment on their personal space.

Social networking is changing the recruitment landscape. Or so we are told. But according to Lawyer2B’s Big Survey, conducted in association with BPP Law School, the bulk of aspiring lawyers want employers to stay out of Facebook and Twitter.

“It certainly doesn’t surprise me,” remarks Simmons & Simmons graduate recruitment partner Alex Brown. “It’s a bit like watching your parents dance at a wedding – it’s a bit incongruous and trying to be a bit too cool.”

But the swell of dedicated graduate ­recruitment Facebook and Twitter accounts suggest others do not feel the same, with law firms actively searching for innovative ways to engage with generation Y and Z.

Play time

Commercial Facebook pages bear the brunt of the criticism, largely due to the social ­network’s reputation as a personal forum to engage with friends and not ­professionals.

“Social networking is designed for social aspects of your life, whereas work-life or career opportunities should be kept separate from that,” insists Legal Practice Course ­student Kuda Kache. “I think it’s their way of trying to keep up with advancing technology and social networking, but it’s not necessary.”

In contrast, one second-year university law student argues that the informal nature of social media makes it an ­excellent tool for breaking down barriers in communication.

“Being able to ask a recruiter fairly ­anonymously a question that you may ­otherwise feel embarrassed to ask at a law fair can be very helpful,” he says. “It also helps you get a feel for the culture of the law firm.”

Indeed, to avoid encroaching on candidates’ personal cyber space, some law firms have opted to steer clear of Facebook.

Nabarro has chosen to embrace the ­technological age with a ­dedicated Twitter account (@NabarroGrad) that launched in October. Bond Pearce (@BondPearceGrads), Cobbetts (@CobbettsGradRec) and Trowers & Hamlins (@Trower_GradRec) also joined the graduate recruitment Twitterati this year.

“Based on a lot of feedback from students at law fairs and events, most said, ’don’t go near Facebook’,” says Nabarro graduate recruitment manager Jane Drew. “Facebook is predominantly for social purposes – a way to check in with friends. Twitter is just not as invasive, students don’t feel we’re stalking them.”

Addleshaw Goddard has also avoided ­Facebook in favour of Twitter. In an interview with Lawyer2B in June 2010, ­former graduate recruitment manager Brett Galloway warned firms not to blur the line between personal and professional space. “We’ve found by ­talking to students that Facebook is ­considered a very personal space,” he added.

Getting personal

In contrast, Hogan Lovells resourcing head Clare Harris says Facebook is simply a tool to bridge the communication gap with ­students. “We’re not trying to be their friends, but to give an extra line of ­information to complement our website,” she says.

Lovells is the latest law firm to launch a ­Facebook page. The decision followed ­independent research showing that ­Facebook is more popular than Twitter among students.

The Lawyer 2B survey supports this view, revealing that 91.2 per cent of students that took part have a Facebook account, while only 40.1 per cent actively use Twitter.

Eversheds graduate recruitment manager Lorraine Petheram believes that students’ ­disapproval of firms on Facebook stems from the idea that employers are going to “snoop their Facebook pages”. She adds: “Those who are unaware or have ­limited knowledge of the privacy settings for their personal accounts will be less likely to engage with employers or ­follow groups set up by employers.”

“Students can restrict access,” says Harris, “and I would expect them to exercise that privilege. But law firms don’t have the time, resources or interest, frankly, to look at ­individual profiles.”

Eversheds took a distinct approach to social networking, charging three trainees with the coordination of Twitter, Facebook and Brand New Talent. “The three platforms are a way to reach ­students on an international scale in addition to the personal contact through law fairs and events,” says Petheram.

SNR Denton graduate recruitment partner Jeremy Cape says that although his firm is eyeing various social media possibilities, firms should be careful not to just follow the trend.

“We didn’t want to be jumping on to social media for social media’s sake – with other firms launching pages it’s very easy just to fall into it,” he admits. “We do want to engage in social media but we don’t want to just use it as a means of re-publicising our press releases.”

Brown echoes this sentiment. He has ­chosen not to launch dedicated social media pages until Simmons has the necessary resources “to do it properly”.

“There are lots of companies that do this and don’t maintain it – and there’s nothing worse than a Facebook or Twitter account that’s just neglected,” he adds.

Talent spotting

The alternative to Facebook and Twitter is Brave New Talent, a social media recruitment site that connects undergraduates and ­companies in the style of Facebook – minus the embarrassing photos and wall postings.

Allen & Overy (A&O), Eversheds and ­Pinsent Masons signed up initially, although A&O has since moved over to Facebook.

Pinsents graduate recruitment head Edward Walker, in a previous interview (Lawyer2B, 8 June 2010), said: “I didn’t like the idea of ­blurring the lines between ­personal and ­professional, so we went with something ­completely independent and specialist. Social media is great, but students who want to use it on a professional platform need to be sensible and manage their personal brand online.”

The survey also shows that aspiring lawyers see law fairs and graduate recruitment ­websites as useful tools for finding out more about a potential employer, with 81.1 per cent and 90.4 per cent agreeing respectively.

Petheram claims the key to altering student opinion on whether law firms should use social media sites is for employers to be more transparent in their approach.

“Law firms need a message on their ­websites stating the reasons for using social media,” she says. “Social media engagement is not going to go away, it’s only going to get ­bigger. Generation Y and Z are tech-savvy. Students just need to realise [our participation] is to provide brand awareness and not to form part of the assessment process.”