Online Social Networking: Is It a Productivity Bust or Boon for Law Firms?


I recently had an article on Faceblocking published in the March 2009 issue of Law Practice Magazine: Online Social Networking: Is It a Productivity Bust or Boon for Law Firms?

Steve Matthews helped me conduct an informal poll to see if  law firms were still blocking access to social networking sites. Our theory was proven in the results. (You can download the raw survey data (.xls) if you want a look at the underlying data.) Of those responding to the survey, 45% said their firms blocked access to social networking sites. The three most blocked sites: Facebook, MySpace and YouTube. Those are also 3 of the top 10 most visited sites on the web. We also published some of comments from the survey respondents: Speaking Out on Social Networking.

The survey is very unscientific. Steve and I thought that it would be useful to get some data about what law firms are doing about access to social networking sites. I was surprised that 45% of firms blocked access to some social networking sites. Perhaps those working at firms subject to blocking were more likely to respond to the survey. I was also surprised that the 45% blocking percentage was fairly consistent across firm size. So small law firms were just as likely to block access as big firms.

Although I am an advocate of open access, I do so with the caveat that you need to let the people in your organization know what is proper use and to monitor their compliance. I fear that many firms use blockage as their policy. That may have worked 10 years ago, but not today. You can just as easily access these sites from iPhone or blackberry as you can from a firm computer. Blocking does not stop the bad behavior that you are trying to prevent.

You should set sensible policies and set reasonable expectations for your employees. Social networking sites at their core are communications platform. You should be able to adapt your policies on email, confidentiality, marketing and similar policies to easily include social networking sites. If not, those other policies probably need updating anyhow.



  1. We have yet to tackle how we can/should /want to use social networking as a tool in our firm. I can seee it’s use changing and be a great benefit if our customers/suppliers/prospective employees want to engage this way and I can see it coming in terms of ‘know-who’ as well as ‘know-how’, but I’m not yet seeing the benefits or the killer tools clearly.

    I think we will go back and look at the marketing/recruitment policies … so thanks for that thought.

    Most use of social networking sites we see is by the younger members of staff (secretaries mainly), to keep up to date with their friends.

    However, our web use policy is a bit more liberal than most – we don’t block social sites, but we do ‘warn’ people and they can (and do) click past the warning screens. This gives us the opportunity to remind people we are logging and review their activity without stopping all access. However, sometimes HR has to speak to people about their web use because these sites is addictive!

  2. John –

    Different sites have different audiences. Although Facebook was initially skewed towards college age. The latest numbers showed the most growth in the 30+ crowd and the 50+. Twitter has always had a 30+ audience.

    Regardless, you want to have a policy so everyone knows what they should and should not do with these tools. Take a look at the blogging / social internet policy (the last link at the end of the post). It should be a good starting point.

  3. Doug –

    Thanks for the reply! We have already got a good policy on how users shouldn’t use business IT and resources (including some guidance on blogs) and that generally works well. As described above – we are fairly liberal, but unlike many others we do enforce. There are some things in the linked policy I might add, but we have all of the subject matter covered already.

    We don’t have a policy on how people should use these sites and that’s the thing we all need to think about as well – ie; what’s the opportunity for us to use these tools as well as protecting against the risks…

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