Over the past few months, we’ve discussed how to set up your social profiles and use them to build your practice. Now we’re going to address how attorneys should handle legal inquiries that appear on their social profiles. How do you walk the fine line between serving as a friendly potential source of help and one-half of an attorney-client relationship? Here’s how to answer questions online:
1. Make the information you share easy to understand
When people ask attorneys a question, they expect a certain amount of “legalese” or jargon surrounding the explanation of legal concepts. Remember, however, that the average American adult reads at a 7th-grade level. Avoid overcomplicating your answer, no matter how complex the law is in the area under question.
2. Use general information in your responses
As you well know, attorneys may not offer legal advice to potential clients. To avoid this pitfall online, it makes sense to use general information in your responses. Taking this approach serves two purposes. First, it keeps you from inadvertently creating an attorney-client relationship because you are not offering advice specific to the person asking you a question. Second, general information makes your response applicable to everyone. If your response is publicly available, other readers will be able to benefit from it and could potentially become clients as well.
3. Make sure you and your staff are always professional
Although this piece of advice should go without saying, always answer questions with a professional tone. If an attorney is found using inappropriate language, mocking, ridiculing, or using other unprofessional tactics, readers will take notice. People want to hire someone they can trust who communicates clearly, not someone who denigrates others.
4. Respond to questions posed specifically to you
The advice in points 1-3 is useful to attorneys answering questions in any setting, including online forums and designated legal advice sites. These mediums are typically question and answer style where the inquiries are posted and any lawyer can respond. If, however, someone asks you a question, for example, on your firm’s public Facebook timeline, be sure to respond. If the question is private, the person asking could be serious about setting up an attorney-client relationship in the future, and failing to respond could alienate them from contacting you again. A question left unanswered could make you appear distant or unapproachable, which could prevent people from further seeking your help.
Learn about common mistakes to avoid as you craft your answers in Part 2 (coming next week).