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Some Things to Know When You're a Woman

By Deborah Gonzalez

The statistics:
• 42 million women in the U.S. (about 53% of the adult female population) routinely participate in social media on a weekly basis (Flowtown 2010).

• 68% of women use social media to stay in touch with family and friends (Rebtel 2011 Survey).

• 89% of online women between the ages of 18 to 29 are on social media sites; 69% of them log on every day (Pew Internet & American Life Project, 2011).

• 70% of women online vs. 30% of men online "share" - this includes links, videos, images, other content, re-tweets and comments on blogs or forums (MediaBadger.com, 2011).

• Women are spending less time with traditional media as they spend more time with social media: 39% less on newspapers, 36% less reading magazines, and 30% less watching TV (BlogHer 2011 Survey).

• Women are more "network savvy" in the Alternative Dispute Resolution and International Trade Industries on LinkedIn, while men are more "network savvy" in Medical Practice and Law Enforcement (LinkedIn 2011 Analysis).

Some more statistics for context:
• Women make up 31% of all lawyers in the US (ABA Market Research Department, 2010).

• Women make up only 6% of Managing Partners, 15% of Equity Partners, and 19.4% of Partners in private practice. (ABA Commission on Women in the Profession, 2011 Glance at Women in the Law).

• Women make up 16 to 18% of General Counsel in Corporations (ABA Commission on Women in the Profession, 2011 Glance at Women in the Law).

• Women lawyers' average weekly salary is only 74.9% of a male lawyer's salary (2009 Bureau of Labor statistics).

Bringing these two sets of statistics together make something very clear - women are leading the way in social media but are lagging in the legal profession. Can the former change the latter?

Various legal professionals, such as Nicole Black, Carolyn Elefant, Carla Varriale and Amy Elizabeth Stewart, claim that the answer is a resounding "yes." Why? Let's take a look at some of their reasons:

1. Social media is where our clients are transacting business, living their lives. We need to be where they are.

2. Social media plays to women's interpersonal communication skills strengths - women tend to be relationship builders, and understand that in order to build a strong relationship, communication needs a social aspect to it and must be continuous. Knowing about the client, his or her family, and some personal notes, like hobbies, is essential business knowledge.

3. Social media is about transparency and authenticity - women tend to be more open in regards to information and who they are. This in turn allows clients to build "trust" in their lawyers.

4. Social media provides opportunities for women lawyers to demonstrate their expertise and knowledge in their legal fields through blogs and other forums. At the same these opportunities induce interaction and engagement between the bloggers and the readers, adding another layer of "social".

5. Social media allows for a convenient form of networking - one not limited by geography or time - lending itself to help women lawyers balance their work and home lives.

6. Social media is a flexible platform and can level the playing field. It permits women lawyers to seek and obtain mentors wherever those mentors may be, as currently there are so few women lawyers at the top who can share their insights and lessons of the way to success, as well as offer other employment and career opportunities.

These are six great reasons for seeing social media as a valuable tool in a woman lawyer's toolbox. Yet there are some things about which to be cautious.

1. Ethical Rules - Professional Rules of Conduct and ABA Model Rules must be adhered to while participating in social media. State bar associations are starting to provide guidelines for attorneys so they can stay ethical online. Examples include confidentiality concerns, disclaimers so that there is no accidental unauthorized practice of law in jurisdictions in which one is not licensed, and making sure that profiles do not contradict the "no specialty" rule for attorneys (for example LinkedIn Specialty section in its public profiles). It is important to keep in mind that these rules apply regardless of gender.

2. Regulatory Restrictions - Women attorneys practicing in regulated industries such as healthcare, the financial sector, and pharmaceuticals, will also have to be aware of FTC, FDA, SEC, and other agency guidelines regarding protected data and disclosures.

3. Privacy - Privacy is also a concern. Women attorneys need to realize that nothing is truly private - regardless of the privacy preferences set on your social media accounts. One should not put anything online that one would not want to see on a billboard. The media is full of cases of social media mishaps that have cost reputations, jobs, and even lives.

4. Using public WIFI - Ever go to Starbucks and turn on the tablet to get a quick look at emails? Be careful, public WIFI are unsecured and can leave a user and his or her data vulnerable to being stolen, damaged (through malware) or manipulated to harmful consequences. As attorneys, we may have sensitive information on our devices, so it is important to have a firewall and turn off file sharing while in public. As for security and using "the cloud", that's another article all together.

5. Safety - Is it prudent to let people know where one is or when one will not be home? Today's social media platforms, such as FourSquare and other geolocation sites, can be used as tools for targeting individuals. Women lawyers who work in the criminal arena need to be especially careful, as former defendants (who may have been convicted of violent crimes) may follow.

6. Cyber-discrimination, cyber-harassment and workplace cyber-bullying - From threats to off-color jokes, to the sending of inappropriate photos by email, text, Twitter or status updates, can cause harm to the professional dignity and safety of women lawyers. Can a woman put up the notice on Facebook that she just found out she is pregnant? Will that affect her legal career if the law firm finds out that she is on the "Mommy-track"? Businesses, corporations, and law firms must update their policies to include this online possibility and offer the mechanisms for victims to seek redress.

Upon review, we have six good and six bad points. Yet social media is basically neutral, as it is a tool and depends on how it is used. The negative can be protected against with awareness, education and other technology tools. The positive can have long-term effects, including changing the gender disproportion in the legal profession. What do you think? How are you using social media in your practice, and if you are not, why not? Go ahead, send out invites and do a "tweet-up" with women attorneys to discuss these issues. You may be surprised at what's happening around you.

Deborah Gonzalez, Esq. is the founder of Law2sm, LLC, a new legal consulting firm focusing on helping its clients navigate the legal issues relating to the new digital and social media world. Deborah speaks about the legal issues relating to intellectual property, art, music, and digital entertainment law, in addition to social media legal trends and practices. For more information email Deborah at deborah@law2sm.com or see www.law2sm.com.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on October 25, 2011 4:09 PM.

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