In 2008, Adrian Dayton was fired from his associate position at a law firm in Buffalo, New York due to the country’s economic downturn. He was almost relieved—he wasn’t happy in the job anyway, and now he had the opportunity to find his niche. Adrian began touring the country, teaching attorneys how to use Twitter and other social media platforms to the benefit of their business. That consultancy eventually morphed into Clearview Social, a tool that makes it easy for organizations to have their employees share content with their networks. Adrian sat down to chat with Vault about his career path and the ways law engages with social media—and how the industry can use it more effectively.
Vault: So what initially drew you to law school?
Adrian: I think the whole story of how I ended up in law school is not as important as how the market changed. Back in 2004, when I went to law school, I initially wanted an MBA. But they seemed less and less attractive—it seemed like everyone had an MBA—and I thought that a law degree could give me a step up in the competition. So I went to law school not to become a lawyer, but to go into business.
I then went to law school and to my surprise, I loved it. I loved the core classes—contracts, property, though I hated civil procedure. Law school was really fun. I did well, and I had offers to join a few firms. While in law school I got married and we had a kid. My wife liked the idea of a steady salary, so I accepted an offer with a prominent law firm in Buffalo, New York.
Vault: You notoriously founded Clearview Social after losing your job during the Great Recession. What prompted you to move away from practicing law entirely and found Clearview Social?
Adrian: I started my legal career in 2008. In 2009, I started using Twitter. One day the head of the department came into my office, and he said two words I’ll never forget: “You’re fired.” I called my wife to tell her—she started crying, and I told her that I had a plan. I told her that I was going to teach lawyers how to use Twitter, and she started crying harder. But she’s very supportive, and she realized that I was more engaged in business than I ever had been as a lawyer. People tell me, “Wow, you really took a negative and turned it into a positive.” But I hated being a lawyer, so I don’t think it was really a negative at all.
When I created my consultancy [Adrian Dayton & Associates, a precursor to Clearview Social], I wanted to really influence the legal industry. I wanted to bring social media to law, and I saw so much potential and wanted to make it a reality. I read Tribes by Seth Godin, which was so inspiring, and since the market had turned, the firms were ready for new ideas and change. My consultancy exploded. Twelve months after I was fired, I was making double what I did as a lawyer. I never even considered looking back to practicing law, since the consultancy was so much more practical for me—and I was happier, so that was a double whammy. I traveled across the country, trained thousands of attorneys at luncheons, partner retreats, and all the major industry conferences—but I got frustrated because they liked the message, but they wouldn’t change their behaviors. I realized that it wasn’t enough for them to learn—they needed tools to make the process easier.
Vault: Can you tell us briefly how Clearview Social works? What do you do that's different than simply sharing a post or two on LinkedIn?
Adrian: I realized that professional services firms all have the same problem. Most firms are creating great content, but no one is sharing it—not even the author. They’re all using content marketing—blog posts, articles, etc. The best way to market that way is by creating content that adds value to your network, so they’ll hire you. So I created Clearview social, a tool designed for marketing that content. Instead of someone from marketing going door to door to harass people to share more content, Clearview Social sends everyone in the organization an email with a queue of articles. They check the items they want to share, and it sends them out across their social media platforms. The posts are scheduled across the company and throughout the week—so it’s not like everyone’s sharing all the same content at the same time.
So, how is this different than posting directly to LinkedIn? Almost 200 companies are now using Clearview Social, some with 20 users and some with upwards of 5,000. And the reality is that every one of those organizations, before Clearview, tried sending emails reminding their employees to post links, and it just didn’t work. The average statistic of organic posting, without the tool, was about 1-2 percent of employees sharing content on LinkedIn. The difference with Clearview social is that organizations are sharing more posts, more frequently, and with increased quality. It’s more regular, and there are more feedback and statistics so people can see what’s working and what’s not. So the tool gets smarter every time it's used.
To give you an example: One organization we work with sent out emails to remind people to post, but would only get about five posts to social media in a week. They have about 300 employees. They’ve been using Clearview for 9 months, and last week they had 1,200 shares throughout the company. The people were willing before, but it was difficult without a tool.
Vault: Law isn't exactly a field that one thinks of as having a strong social media presence—as opposed to consumer products, tech, etc. Why do you think this field doesn't seem to have the same impact on social media? What is law doing to try and keep up?
Adrian: It’s all a matter of where law works and where it doesn’t. Where law doesn’t make sense in social media is Instagram, since the platform is for images with very little written content. It also doesn’t work on Facebook corporate pages. Firms tell me that they use their Facebook pages to talk about recruiting and their nonprofit initiatives. But it still isn’t effective. No one cares. No one is going to go on a Facebook corporate page to look that stuff up. Employees might use it, but not the public.
Where law is doing well is when they embrace true content marketing—in teaching and educating the marketplace. These firms create great blog content, the lawyers are at the top of their games, teaching their networks about the latest legal developments, how to mitigate risk, and other great subjects. The reason lawyers are so much better at this than other industries is that they have something to say. Creating meaningful content is a big challenge for every industry, but when lawyers get it right, it’s very powerful.
Vault: What do you think of as the key to a strong, professional social media presence—both for organizations and individuals?
Adrian: For individuals, the foundation is a LinkedIn profile that’s completely filled out, accurate, and up to date. It should also be strategically aligned with their goals. If they did environmental law 10 years ago but now they’re crushing it in health care, their profile should tell the market who they are now. If that’s the base, the structure is content. The first step is found, curated content—reposting things from other sources. Posting relevant content shows that they have their finger on the pulse of the market. After that, they should become the creators of content: putting informative posts together and starting the conversation rather than joining it.
It shouldn’t be a big surprise that for organizations to be successful in social media, they need to facilitate and support the social media presences of their individuals. This is where many companies have it backwards—they want individuals to share only content that promotes them, but instead, they should be serving their clients and adding value to the content they share. In a way, all these companies are like the stereotypical used car salesmen, only pitching themselves. But if you meet a genuine car salesman, who offers you real value, that salesman is going to crush it. If you can really nail social media, help your network, and share valuable content, you’re going to stand out.
Vault: Do you have any advice for attorneys or law students who are considering taking their "entrepreneurial spirit" someplace outside a law firm?
Adrian: Did you see the movie Get Out? You’re sitting there watching, thinking, “That guy’s got to leave or he’s going to be trapped there forever”? My message to people in law with a truly driving entrepreneurial spirit is to get out. The reality is, if you really want to build something, it’ll be much harder to leave the “golden handcuffs” of “BigLaw” the further you go down that path.
I gave a keynote speech at a partner retreat for a firm, and afterward, I was speaking to the managing partner. I kind of apologized to him for not liking being a lawyer, and he said to me, “You don’t need to apologize—so many of these people wish they could get out and do their own thing, and they missed their chance.” I honestly think about my time in life as a lawyer, which wasn’t very long—I did lawyer stuff for barely over a year. That time for me, though I got good experience and learned things, was not a happy time in my life. It’s been everything since then. That’s me—I also meet lawyers who love their work and are passionate, brilliant people who are doing a lot of good. And so the “get out” thing isn’t my advice for everyone. For some, law is their mission, but for me, it wasn’t the right fit. And it isn’t the right fit for everyone who goes to law school, either. The key is to find what you’re passionate about and pursue it.
Learn more about Adrian and Clearview Social here. Adrian Dayton is also a regular contributor for Forbes. Find his articles here: https://www.forbes.com/sites/adriandayton/#4e9f87326445
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