Social Activism

Is Your Law Firm’s Social Activism Purely Performative?

The majority of law firms use social media in today’s digital era. Over 95% of law firms claim they use social media, and 70% use it as part of their marketing efforts. With this ever-increasing use of social media has come a variety of systems for generating social content, including but not limited to: outsourcing it to a capable marketing company like mine or one of many others focused on the legal industry niche, hiring a competent in-house marketer who can develop a social calendar and draft appropriate content, and/or using cheap freelancers or a law firm employee with no experience to save money.

While there is always room for improvement in any social media marketing strategy, recent cause-based social media posts by law firms leave much to be desired. A lot of the cause-based social content (also known as social activism) I’ve seen from some of the largest and most well-funded law firms in the world as well as some of the smallest firms out there (also known as #TeenyLaw) has been purely performative. Below, I’ve picked three blatant and common examples of where most, if not all, law firms have gotten it wrong. So, let’s dive right in.

Wellness

Wellness was all the rage for a time, although increasingly less so as we rouse ourselves out of pandemic induced isolation and fatigue. Law firms were hiring in-house wellness and wellbeing coordinators in senior positions to help their employees deal with the very real issues we face. While several firms promote these new positions, new hires, and new programs, when it came down to analyzing them, many were overly (or solely) focused on physical health, which is largely designed to reduce the firm’s risk and health insurance premiums, rather than actually deal with the very real mental health issues – such as depression, anxiety, alcoholism, and suicide – that plague our profession. Lawyers are killing themselves and leaving loved ones behind because law firms set unrealistic expectations of them, provide no in-house mental health support, and penalize those who seek help, in some cases by giving their jobs away if they take much needed leave.

Don’t create a website page, develop an in-house strategy, or hire an outside consultant for wellness unless it is a truly holistic effort designed to help ALL members of your firm, not just lawyers. Don’t promote your firm as focused on work-life balance or employee wellbeing while you force associates to bill thousands of hours and don’t give them CLE credit and/or count billable hours for attending your mandatory wellness Zoom sessions. And don’t give lip service to mental health issues on your law firm’s social media channels unless you are providing the resources everyday behind the scenes. Be real. Do it right or don’t do it at all, because people will “out” your faux social activism online. I’ve already seen the backlash and it’s not pretty.

International Women’s Day

If your law firm doesn’t provide support for women needing fertility treatments, those suffering from breast, uterine, ovarian, or other such cancers, pregnant moms, breastfeeding mothers, women with post-partum depression, and show it values female lawyers by elevating them to shareholder/partner/member status, please don’t pander to us by posting how many women employees you have in celebration of International Women’s Day. You don’t get to celebrate women if you don’t have the policies in place to support them. Please do not make a cutesy social media graphic saying, “Look at us, we have a few female attorneys!” That is not solidarity, progression, change, or working to #BreakTheBias. It’s performative, condescending, and vapid. It will also not help your firm recruit more females. All an applicant has to do is find one of your existing or former female lawyers on LinkedIn, reach out with a message, and ask what the culture is like for women at your firm. If the pretty posts don’t match the actual corporate reality, your social posts will be all for naught.

LGBTQ+ Activism and Allyship

A higher-up at one of the largest law firms in the world relayed to me how excited he was about the firm’s progressiveness on LGBTQ+ issues. I asked what he meant and he proudly showed me the firm had adjusted its social media avatars and icons to have the pride rainbow flag as a background. Just now, I went to visit their website and social media channels and those items have all reverted to the regularly branded firm colors, so I am not sure what the purpose of the temporary rainbows was or what the firm has done to provide a safe working space for its diverse body of employees – maybe it has, maybe it hasn’t. My point is that using a rainbow flag for a few weeks a year online does not equate to allyship, and it does not mean you really support the diverse group of people that fall within the spectrum of LGBTQ+.

Does your law firm’s health insurance cover treatments needed if an employee wants to transition to their preferred gender? Do you provide for equal parental leave for all parents, whether by adoption, surrogacy, or the gender of the parents? Does your firm “dead name” lawyers who have chosen to identify by a new name that more accurately represents who they are? Do you have policies on the books to protect your team members beyond federal and state regulations, and if so, do they truly have a safe space to go in human resources or elsewhere to report harassment, abuse, assault, and other violations of a safe workspace? If not, put the flags and rainbows down and do some internal reflection on your social activism. The world is a new place and the old guard that may still largely control your firm’s leadership needs to adjust the inner workings of your business to reflect modernity, acceptance, and care – or else you can watch from the sidelines while top talent goes elsewhere and you lose business from companies seeking to hire likeminded professionals.

Social Media Marketing and Social Activism That Matters

Your law firm does not need to nor should it weigh in on every single social, political, cultural, religious, or other issue affecting the world today. You should post on social media only as frequently as is dictated by best practices and not capitalize on others’ movements in order to bolster your own brand unless your own social activism comports with that cause. My advice: stay quiet on issues you don’t know enough about, aren’t taking an active role in helping with, and/or are known to have problematic issues with. If you or your law firm want to learn more about how to do well on social media without needlessly and performatively coopting the struggles of other groups for engagement, contact us today for more information on how we can help.

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