For many lawyers, particularly senior partners of big legal practices, social media is still uncharted territory. Defined as a means by which people discover, read and share news, information and content, there remains a general mistrust of social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, fueled to some extent by numerous examples of court cases going awry because of postings on social media sites. However, using them to build a credible discussion resource, expand individual reputations and lay the foundations for a strong professional presence, has become the starting point for many lawyers and law firms, particularly in North America. The acceptance of the use of social networks at a senior level in UK law firms has been much slower. That needs to change, particularly in relation to human resource management.
The main stumbling block appears to be simply one of generational shift. Whilst the majority of lawyers over the age of 40 have embraced many aspects of the new technologies (the Digital Immigrants), they did not grow up in the digital era as their younger subordinates have done. These young Digital Natives - those who learned with technology rather than learned about technology (as for the Digital Immigrants) - have a very different mindset when it comes to their place of work and how they work.
One of the challenges for law firm human resource managers is the recognition that there are well-defined characteristics that differentiate Digital Native employees from the interns of the past. These differences have changed the employee landscape so emphatically that conventional forms of management are no longer appropriate today. To effectively address this important issue, and to understand the emerging changes in employer/employee relations, those responsible for the management of legal staff need to understand something of the psyche of this new generation.
I think the major shift in the last 4 years with the Digital Natives is that the communication is expected instantaneously - something very strange to the Digital Immigrants, who are just getting to grips with relying on emails as their preferred communication. The Natives communicate and react instantly and get huge exposure and following if they feel the need. Which makes dealing with them as staff a very delicate matter - one slip and the world will be knocking at your door. It seems the HR department is now operating in a glass office with microphones. The answer is to learn to keep up and open the channels of communication.....a lot.