How Social Media is Changing the Practice of Law

Oct. 15, 2015, 6:46 PM

Remember that scene in Runaway Jury when Gene Hackman scrupulously studies his possible jurors in a basement filled with computer monitors displaying their personal information? Well, lawyers can actually do something similar by using social media analytics, according to Deloitte.

This summer, Deloitte hosted a webinar titled, “Social media analytics, corporate investigations and litigation: What relationships now reveal,” and with it, the company polled participants about their use of social media analytics in a legal setting.

Nearly half of the 2,490 professionals who responded — about 45.2 percent — said that they use publicly available social media content when conducting investigations, while 12.6 percent of them use analytics to scour the social media data online, according to Deloitte.

So while social media has proven to be a big help for law enforcement officials looking for quicker ways to find bad guys, the poll statistics illustrate that corporate America isn’t as attentive to those online platforms when conducting litigation and investigations.

“I think that this is sort of an emerging industry — the development of these tools to analyze social media content and the connections between people in social media,” said Wendy Schmidt, an advisory principal at Deloitte and the global leader of its business intelligence services. (Disclosure: Deloitte is a sponsor of Big Law Business)

Deloitte declined to provide information on its own social media analytics business — headcount, revenue, or otherwise — but Schmidt provided Big Law Business with some anecdotal information about how some corporate clients are using these tools.

For one thing, lawyers have found it helpful to use social media analytics in jury selection, she said.

“We are putting in key words to see what connections they might have to the opposing party; what are they saying on social media?” said Schmidt, noting that the company can pick up information like whether a juror is Republican or Democrat.

“We’ve had situations where jurors say, ‘If you’re looking at my social media profile, I’m the one in the back of the room in blue: please don’t pick me!’”

On another note, Schmidt said companies are also beginning to look at the social media to identify insider threat concerns — situations where an employee may be using a company’s confidential information inappropriately — as well as any other threats to the company, physical or optical.

“In insider threat investigations, you’re focused on an individual, trying to figure out who they are and what they do in the company, and figuring out whether an insider threat might be present,” said Schmidt. “If it’s a Twitter post, for example, you might not be able to tell who that Twitter handle belongs to, but by using these social media investigative tools... we are able to figure out who that person is who is tweeting a bomb threat, for example.”

Of course, Deloitte has an interest in noting the area: it sells such analytics. But why aren’t more companies? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.

To bring some additional context to the poll’s data, a Deloitte spokeswoman said that the 2,490 professionals who participated worked in industries such as banking and securities, technology, investment management, retail and distribution and process and industrial products. She said the webinar offered a continuing professional education course for CPAs, so the majority of respondents held roles in accounting, finance, tax and audit departments, with a smaller contingent of legal professionals.

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