It’s fair to say Twitter has taken the social media world by storm. In less than five years, Twitter has become one of the go-to media outlets for bloggers, newspapers, companies, and the everyday Internet user. I won’t go into a long discourse on what Twitter is, what it can do, or how it works. Other people have done a much better job at describing it than I could have. (Consider checking out About.com’s “What is Twitter” article or viewing Common Craft’s “Twitter in Plain English” video. Also, Twitter has its own about page.)
I’ve discovered through casual conversations (with law school classmates, lawyers, businesspeople, and family and friends) that there are three basic reactions to Twitter. A) “I don’t get it. What’s the point?”, B) “That would never work for me,” or C) “Awesome. Sign me up.” The links in the previous paragraph address the first reaction, and the third reaction needs no additional encouragement, so my message today is directed at the second: don’t be afraid of Twitter. As law students, lawyers, or professors, Twitter offers something for each of us.
The basic benefit of Twitter as a lawyer (either as a solo practitioner or a member of a law firm) is in providing information to current or potential clients and to other lawyers. But it’s about more than just “tweet”ing firm news releases or updates. Indeed, as an individual lawyer, any specific updates you could provide would likely breach attorney-client confidentiality or violate state ethics codes. Twitter is, instead, a useful tool in keeping your followers up-to-date about legal news. That news could be about important decisions in courts around the country, news about legislation, or a story about how the law operates in practice.
Communicating this information to current clients lets them know that you keep up with legal news and informs them about aspects of the law that might impact them. It helps you continue to build and cultivate a relationship with your clients by providing them with up-to-date information about the law. It’s the equivalent of a weekly or monthly newsletter to clients about updates in the law, but is more current and, by the nature of the Twitter relationship, the client wants the information.
Posting this information for potential clients allows them to see that you keep up with legal news, you care about educating the general public about this news, and the news involves an area of your practice. In short, it lets people know that you care about this area of the law and they should consider contacting you for assistance in issues arising in that area of law. It’s like the tv commercial, billboard, or telephone book cover, except Twitter updates are current, constantly evolving, and allow interaction through replies or retweets (RTs).
Other benefits Twitter can offer for a lawyer or law firm include posting links to a blog post (should the lawyer or law firm maintain one), networking in its most simple form, and communicating specific information about the lawyer or law firm (looking for a new associate? looking to become a new associate? attending a conference or CLE event?).
As law students, I think Twitter offers a few key advantages. First, for lawyers or law firms who have embraced the platform, being an active (and appropriate) Twitter user shows legal professionals that you care about the law and are interested in participating in the public discussion about its application. Second, creating a professional online “persona” is a valuable resource. I think law students underestimate the power of blogging about the law (another post for another day or another blogger), and Twitter is an extension of that power. Use Twitter to create and fashion an Internet reputation that shows you are a serious student of the law and committed to your practice area of interest. Finally, network! Twitter is a great networking tool. Follow fellow law students, lawyers, law firms, law blogs, and other legal news sources. But making the connection isn’t enough, reply to interesting Twitter updates with thoughtful and thought-provoking responses, connect with those contacts on LinkedIn, or email them about a recent Twitter update they made.
For professors, Twitter offers a way to engage in a discussion about legal issues, but with fewer words. Many of our professors have found this faculty blog to be a great place for discussing legal issues. Twitter provides a way to expand on that discussion. Professors can post links to interesting articles or case decisions, or links to their own blog posts.
One last point – our Alum Blogger of the Month Brent Nistler presented a great four-part blog series on starting your own practice. Twitter offers a great tool to lawyers starting up a solo practice. All of the benefits I mention in this post are arguably increased for solo practitioners, especially those on a budget. Twitter is a free way to establish yourself and your new solo practice as a knowledgeable and trust-worthy source of legal information in your chosen field.
So, now you’re interested in joining Twitter. Now what? Here are a few basic rules you should consider following:
- Update regularly. The power of Twitter derives from people who follow you. In general, people are only going to follow users who tweet regularly.
- Make your updates relevant. Updates about what you ate for breakfast or what your plans for the weekend are not relevant.
- Do not post private or confidential details about a client, co-worker, or friend. Remember that Twitter is public and can be used in legal proceedings.
- Find legal professionals in your area of law and follow them.
- Read Steven Matthews’ Lawyer Twitter Practices: 29 Do’s and Don’ts.
Here are some of the resources I used to write this post. These articles and blog posts offer more great information about the value of Twitter for lawyers.
– How to Use Twitter as a Lawyer by Grant Griffiths
– Tweet Success Awaits Savvy Lawyer by Guardian.co.uk writer Neil Rose
– The Scoop section of JDSupra.com
– Social Media is Not About Distributing Your Law Firm’s Content to People by Kevin O’Keefe
– Figuring Out Twitter by Jordan Furlong
– Twitter for Law Firms by Jordan Furlong
Don’t be afraid of Twitter. It’s a great resource – use it!
(Note: lawyer bird photo by Ben L., available here.)