Will The Legal Profession Be Affected By The Enormous Growth In The Use Of The Internet And Social Media?

Have you noticed the enormous growth in the user base of the internet and social media? Hard to miss it, I know. The numbers of friends and neighbors, even strangers apparently, who regularly use the internet and social media such as Facebook, Linked In and Twitter is staggering, and the growth rate in the past few years has been astounding. This great increase in online activity has already had a tremendous impact on how clients find professional service providers. For example, I can personally report a significant increase in the number of clients who find me solely through my website after an internet search, without any other prior contact with my law firm or me, either by the client or anyone else. That is very different from prior years when most new clients were referred by prior clients. Yet, despite the many indications that change is rippling through society as a result of internet and social media use, I know many lawyers in New Jersey who dismiss anything about the internet or social media as a timewaster for “kids.” This unwillingness to change seems shortsighted, particularly in light of statistics showing the growth in use of the internet in 2009, fueled in part by the surge in participation in social media:

  • 1.73 billion internet users worldwide as of September 2009, which is an 18% increase in total internet users since previous year. There are about 253 million internet users in North America. (Unfortunately, I could not find any statistics on internet use in New Jersey.)
  • 234 million websites as of December 2009; 47 million were added in 2009.
  • 90 trillion emails were sent on the internet in 2009; on average, 247 billion email messages were sent each day in 2009.
  • 126 million blogs on the internet.
  • 27.3 million tweets per day on Twitter as of November 2009.
  • 350 million people are on Facebook; 50% of them log in every day.
  • 4 billion photos are hosted by Flickr as of October 2009.
  • 2.5 billion photos are uploaded each month to Facebook.
  • 1 billion videos are served by YouTube each day; 12.2 billion videos are viewed per month.

Also interesting are the differences in adoption of social media by different generations. It comes as no surprise that the younger generations are the most socially active on the internet. A new report shows that 77% of those the report calls “Millennials” (i.e., internet users aged between 14 and 26), and 61% of Generation Xers (those aged 27 – 43) maintain social media profiles. However, even older generations are flocking to the new social media sites. The use of social media, especially Facebook, by Baby Boomers (individuals between 44 and 62) and Seniors (those aged 63 – 75) jumped drastically between 2008 and 2009.

According to the report, from 2007 to 2008 there was barely a measurable change — just 1% — in Baby Boomers’ adoption of social media. But 2009 was the year that social media bloomed for Baby Boomers, with nearly 47% of them (or us, since I’m one of them) actively maintaining a profile on the social web, up 15% from 2008. (I unknowingly participated in the increase in social media usage among Baby Boomers. In 2009, I set up my profile on Facebook, Linked In, Twitter, JDSupra and Rocket Lawyer.)

Similarly, the number of Seniors using social media increased about 4% from 2007 to 2008. But the number of Seniors using social media exploded between 2008 and 2009, increasing about 22%. Now, about 36% of Seniors currently maintain a social networking site profile. Most of those Seniors are on Facebook.

The marketing of legal services has clearly been affected enormously by the growth in the use of the internet and social media. Moreover, it seems likely that the practice of law, and the delivery of legal services, eventually also will be affected by the internet and social media. Our clients and future clients have clearly embraced the new technology. The question, I believe, is not whether the profession will be effected, but how. And, yes, even lawyers in New Jersey will be affected.

Sources: For Statistics – Pingdom – the Internet 2009 In Numbers and Mashable, The Social Media Guide – Baby Boomers and Seniors are flocking to Facebook