Opinion: Must lawyers be on Twitter

by Brian John Spencer*
Felix Salmon, a well-known blogger recently asked “Must investors be on Twitter?” Felix floated the question after the Twitter stock market shock of April 23 2013. A day when Twitter roiled US and global markets after a bogus tweet said “Obama-injured”.
Associated Press - Obama Tweet
What the episode showed was how intimately Twitter is coupled with the business world; and how viscerally Twitter can move minds and rock the ticker. As Gillian Tett said in the FT “Wake up to the #Twitter effect on markets”. But Twitter has big effects on the real economy and the real world itself. It is the “pulse of the planet” and the first source for breaking news and debate.
But what about law practice? For years Twitter and social media were a niche interest among lawyers. Now the idea of law firms tweeting is mainstream. The Guardian wrote on the subject recently; as did the Washington Post and new posts appear daily.
Nowadays there’s a lot of noise as people talk up the wonderment of lawyers and law firms going social. Frankly there’s a lot of huff and puff and it can be difficult to make sense of it all. The reality is that Twitter is no silver bullet. It will not revolutionise your practice. Though it can play a significant role in marketing and business development; but even that is hard to quantify. Therefore, using the Felix Salmon analysis, I want to ask: must lawyers be on Twitter?
Felix began his analysis by sketching out the habits of the modern investor as well as the old school money handler. Similar to the law profession, the youngsters are active Twitterphiles while the old guard investors are avoiding it.
Felix then took a look at some analysis on the issue by Izabella Kaminska and Joe Weisenthal. Izabella noted that the old guard investor class is at “a huge disadvantage” and have in fact “missed major trends” by operating on 1990s information terms. Legal practice isn’t and doesn’t need to be tapped into the global newswire the way investors do – so I don’t think we could draw a direct parallel here.
But I do think it’s fair to say that the older lawyer is at a disadvantage informationally. Coming back to Felix he went on to make a deal of the very random, flittering nature of the medium. But he then countered that critique by saying that Twitter is a wonderful “serendipity machine”.
I agree on this point and could share a lot of wonderful anecdotes that have come about through chance meetings and wonderfully informative tweets that I otherwise wouldn’t have seen. He went on to talk about the ability of investors and investment analysts to parse information from the firehose of information. He then drew things to a close with some insightful remarks which apply just as readily to the legal community.
He said: “I’m sure there are many investors out there who would be lost without Twitter, there are surely just as many for whom it would be little more than an unhelpful and noisy distraction… The great thing about Twitter is that the value and the conversation take place among people who want to be there. Telling people that they have to be there, or else they’re missing out, is actually not helpful. Because the one thing we can probably all agree on is that people who feel obliged to be on Twitter are very unlikely to either contribute or receive much of value at all.”
I think this is a very important distinction. Twitter is no zenith. What we’ve heard online recently has been the message that lawyers and law firms must tweet. That isn’t necessarily true and certainly isn’t helpful. Lawyers have a lot to worry about: including big cost pressures, changing client demands, alternative business structures and massive tech disruption.
Like I said earlier, Twitter is no silver bullet. But for the lawyer and law firm that does it genuinely, sincerely and because they want to there is value in good tweeting. I respect the views of the older legal community who want to keep practice the way it is; but I preach a school of thought that says we need to reimagine the way law firms operate and legal services are delivered.
My thinking takes a lot of cues from the arts, tech and creative industries. In particular, the Chief Technology Officer of the Obama 2012 campaign, Harper Reed. What Harper did for Obama 2012 was to realise that electoral politics is never going to change. The basics of knocking on doors will always exist. But what social media can do is to act as a ‘force multiplier’; thereby drive efficiencies and tighten up the practice of politics.
The same applies to law. The bread and butter affairs will always exist. But what Twitter can do is drive informational, networking, marketing and BD efficiencies that would otherwise suck hours out of the modern lawyer and law firm’s schedule.
So yes Twitter is great. It is a wonderful ‘serendipity machine’. But it will not tackle the cost pressures or the alternative business structures. What Twitter can do is help you make new business contacts, reach new clients, market your firm and expertise; but only if you do it because you want to do it.
Original Felix Salmon blog on Reuters: http://blogs.reuters.com/felix-salmon/2013/03/18/must-investors-be-on-twitter/
Gillian Tett commentary on Twitter on the FT: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/0aacf78c-a801-11e2-b031-00144feabdc0.html
Guardian commentary on social media use by lawyers: http://www.guardian.co.uk/law/2012/oct/26/lawyers-social-media
Washington Post commentary: http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2012-03-11/business/35446230_1_social-media-social-networks-law-firms
 * You can find out more about Brian John Spencer here http://about.me/BrianJohnSpencer and here http://www.legalwire.co.uk/