As you may have noticed, the popular press is downright atwitter about Twitter. It is the social media site du jour. It seems you can’t read a newspaper or turn on the TV without hearing something about the microblogging site, whether it’s a news item breaking in the Twitter community, a mistrial being declared because of jurors using Twitter, or celebrities like Ashton Kutcher, Oprah Winfrey and Shaquille O’Neal growing their Twitter followings.
As a result of all the attention, Twitter’s user base continues to grow exponentially. While the data varies, estimates are that the number of unique visitors per month has now climbed to above 14 million or beyond.
In case you’ve been living in a cave, Twitter is a free Web-based platform for quickly sharing information through text-based posts (“tweets”) of up to 140 characters in length. And a growing number of lawyers and law firms are using it to expand their networks and increase their online presence.
Others, though, remain doubtful of the value. Let’s look at why they should get past that—which includes the fact that there are many new resources that add value to Twitter for lawyers.
Notes for the Reluctant
With Twitter, you can connect on both personal and professional levels with potential clients and referral sources, share news and substantive updates relevant to your area of practice, and connect with other lawyers as well as non-lawyers with whom you share similar interests. And it can all be done locally, nationally or globally, according to your needs.
Yet despite the benefits, it’s understandable why many lawyers are reluctant to participate. One reason is the knowledge that existing and potential clients are all over Twitter and “listening” to what you have to say. Add to that the fact that conversations on Twitter are permanently archived and accessible through Internet search engines. So there is a natural worry about the risk of making a painfully public error. But the same risk is inherent in other forms of online communication, and the answer to this worry about Twitter is the same, too.
You need to ensure that any posts you make reflect well on both you and your law practice. So the best course of action is to think before you post. Still, everyone occasionally makes mistakes, so should you innocently write something that you later regret, you simply apologize for the error. Historically, admitting and correcting mistakes quickly and with minimal fanfare serves to head off long-term damage. Again, though, the smartest thing to do is pause and think twice before posting any comments.
Another factor that discourages lawyers from participating on Twitter is the sheer volume of the Twitter universe. With all the millions of people who are twittering already, many wonder how it is possible to cut through the “noise” and locate relevant people to connect with or “follow,” as
well as how to find threads of tweets of value to their practice areas. This concern, however, is increasingly easy to address. The answer lies in a growing range of resources that categorize users by industry or business areas and filter content by type of subject matter. Let’s look at some of the main resources of interest to lawyers now.
Finding People and Law-Related Content
There are a number of ways to locate people you would like to connect with on Twitter. One option is to refer to online directories such as Twellow (www.twellow.com), Just Tweet It (www.justtweetit.com) and We Follow (www.wefollow.com). These directories conveniently categorize Twitter users in a wide spectrum of areas, from aerospace and accounting, to small business and emerging market, to nonprofit, real estate, technology and beyond. You can review the directories to seek out people with whom you’d like to connect based on their type of business.
There are also a number of specific ways to locate legal professionals on Twitter as well as to track their conversations. One is through the JD Scoop blog on JD Supra (http://scoop.jdsupra.com). There you will find what began as a list of “145 Lawyers (and Legal Professionals) to Follow on Twitter”—a list that has rapidly expanded to over 700 lawyers, as this writing. You will also find a list of subject-based legal news feeds that are on Twitter. The listed accounts stream legal news and documents posted by lawyers, law firms and other legal professionals.
In addition, there are two relatively new online directories of legal professionals who are on Twitter, both of which aggregate the Twitter streams of those included in the directories: Justia’s LegalBirds (www.legalbirds.com) and LexBlog’s LexTweet (www.lextweet.com).
Another way to find law-related conversations is via the Legal Tweets blog (www.legaltweets.com), which tracks legal topics currently being discussed on Twitter. The conversations are filtered to include trending issues and are edited to highlight the most salient points being discussed. (Disclosure: Legal Tweets is moderated by the author of this article.)
And yet another Twitter resource specifically for legal professionals is TweetLaw (http://tweetlaw.com), a new entrant in the field. Here, users complete a profile page and choose from among 30 categories to describe their practices. This site provides streams of law tweets and enables users to connect with other TweetLaw users in their field.
More Ways to Keep Up with the Stream
In addition to using the preceding sites, there are other ways to help ensure you hit the mark in where you spend your time on Twitter. Importantly, you can track conversations using hashtags. Hashtags are simply codes that consist of a hash mark (#) followed by a word or phrase—for example, “#lawyers” or “#probatelaw.” They are added at the end of Twitter posts to indicate that the tweet relates to a specific subject matter or event. Hashtags create a context for the tweet and allow other users to quickly search for tweets regarding certain topics using Twitter’s built-in search tool (http://search.twitter.com).
You can look up the meaning of particular hashtags by using Tagalus (http://tagal.us), one of the newest searchable glossaries of hashtags.
Another valuable way to organize the constant stream of new tweets is by using a desktop client program such as Tweetdeck (www.tweetdeck.com) or Twhirl (www.twhirl.com), or a Web application like Tweetree (http://tweetree.com). These programs make the Twitter interface more user-friendly, in part by making replies from other users easier to locate. The Tweetdeck platform is particularly popular because it allows you to organize your followers into groups, while simultaneously keeping track of your conversations on Twitter.
You can also use Twitter applications on your smart phone to keep up with the conversation stream. Two popular iPhone Twitter applications are Tweetie (www.tweetie.com) and Twitterific (www.twitterific.com).
Arguably, the most popular BlackBerry application is Twitterberry (www.twitterberry.com). Other Black-Berry applications to consider are Twibble (www.twibble.com) and Tiny Tweeter (www.tinytweeter.com).
As you can see, there are a number of tools to help lawyers make the most of their tweet time. Remember, too, that it only takes a short amount of time to set up a Twitter account and familiarize yourself with the site and the applications that increase its functionality. Granted, there is a small learning curve, but once you’ve learned to navigate Twitter, you may find that it is a very effective way to extend your online presence.
Nicole Black is of counsel to Fiandach & Fiandach in Rochester, NY. She coauthors the West-Thomson treatise Criminal Law in New York and writes a weekly column for the Daily Record. She also provides legal technology consulting through www.lawtechtalk.com.
WEB 2.0 The term Web 2.0 was coined to reflect the interactive nature of the modern Web, where new tools have emerged to allow everyone—including lawyers—to contribute commentary, collaborate instantly and work digitally in formerly unimaginable ways. In this column, we invite savvy legal technology experts to write about tools and tactics that lawyers can use to leverage the power of the Web 2.0 (r)evolution.