From Bluebook to Facebook: Social Site Seduces Firmland

Are you a young, or even not-so-young, New York lawyer? If so, the odds are good that you’re on Facebook.

Are you a young, or even not-so-young, New York lawyer? If so, the odds are good that you’re on Facebook (META). If not, you’ve probably ignored a dozen invitations from friends urging you to join.

Trust me: You will succumb. Maybe you resisted getting a cellphone 10 years ago, or a Blackberry five years ago, holding out while your friends submitted themselves to the electronic leash. But eventually you gave in—because everyone else was doing it. Lawyers are like high schoolers with six-figure allowances.

Among associates at large law firms, Facebook passed the tipping point sometime over the summer. Since the site opened to the public last year, adults everywhere have been joining—there are 40 million people already on Facebook, and about a million more every week. But lawyers seem to be particularly enamored of it (as is Microsoft, which is reportedly considering an investment that would value Facebook at as much as $10 billion).

It’s an expensive love affair. A British study found that visiting social networking sites like Facebook during working hours costs U.K. firms over $260 million a day. The equivalent number for the United States is surely a multiple of that. Next year, the AmLaw 200 law firms are expected to hire 10,000 new associates. Let’s estimate, conservatively, that half of them spend one billable hour a week on Facebook. If we assume (again conservatively) an average hourly billing rate of $200, that comes to about $50 million a year in lost billable hours—and partner profits. Fifty million bucks will buy you a lot of Hermès ties.

And good luck to any firms who think they can ban Facebook. Allen & Overy, in London, tried that, but backed down after a mini-revolt from employees.

How did this happen? Lawyers—big-firm lawyers in particular—are notoriously cautious about what they share with the Outside World. Why are so many of them jumping at the chance to bare their souls online?

One of the main reasons may be an addictive little feature called the “status update,” in which users can provide a pithy description of how they’re feeling or what they’re up to at any given moment.

Big Law associates love using the status update feature, especially to complain to other lawyers about their miserable lot. It may also be that these lawyers, whose days are divided into six-minute increments which must be accounted for, yearn to give any status update that is more alluring than, say, “reviewing lease agreements.”

Here are a few status updates from actual Big Law lawyers (names changed to protect the innocent):

“Jen is in full-on reply brief mode.”

“Jen is Bluebooking six ways ’til Sunday.”

“Ben is working.”

“Ben is wishing everyone a healthy, happy, and productive new year. May you all bill enough hours to pay for the partner’s new Porsche. Amen.”

And, from one of Mary Jo White’s minions at Debevoise, dispatched to review documents in Germany:

“William is in Munich this week.”

“William is sleepless in Munich.”

“William is seriously in Munich.”

Poor kid! At least they’re putting him up in a nice hotel.

Facebook lends itself to venting by embittered associates because it is, at least for now, a largely partner-free space. Big Law partners, like a few other types of lawyers (e.g., government lawyers, especially prosecutors), are underrepresented among the ranks of Facebook users.

From Bluebook to Facebook: Social Site Seduces Firmland