The New Normal

Should Lawyers Tweet?

Posted Nov 2, 2010 7:56 PM CDT
By Paul Lippe

Paul Lippe

Editor’s note: The New Normal is an ongoing discussion between Paul Lippe, the CEO of Legal OnRamp, and Patrick Lamb, founding member of Valorem Law Group. Paul and Pat spend a lot of time thinking, writing and speaking about the changes occurring in the delivery of legal services. We hope you will join their discussions.

With a front-page feature story on Twitter in Sunday’s New York Times Business Section, it is perhaps a good time to visit the question: “Should Lawyers Twitter?”

In the tradition of Donald Rumsfeld and now Randy Moss, let me proceed by asking and answering my own questions.

What is the functionality of Twitter? Twitter is a wide-open Web service that lets you either (A) publish 140-character “tweets” that can be anything from a deep but brief legal thought to notes from a talk to a rant on your service frustration with American Airlines; and (B) “follow” other folks who are tweeting by reading their tweets. You can go to Twitter periodically to catch up without having the miscellaneous communication clog up your e-mail inbox.

What problem does Twitter solve? Think of Twitter as a meta watercooler. It allows you to track and share thoughts across a wide range of folks. This may or may not solve a problem for you. I find the most useful aspect of Twitter to be (A) as an übereditor for news and developments across the Web; (B) a way to stay in tune with the thinking of folks who may be professionally important to me; and (C) a way to track what’s happening at conferences I can’t attend.

Twitter is a lesser set of functionality than previously available on Facebook’s “FriendFeed,” since you can follow or be followed by folks with whom you have no affiliation. As such, an interesting lesson on how less is sometimes more. I don’t think Twitter itself is a mechanism for deep substantive legal dialogue or legal marketing, but just as Twitter is a variant on Facebook that creates its own dynamic, keep an eye out for law-specific variants on Twitter.

Isn’t the 140 character limitation a problem? Probably not. Most people think the 140-character limit forces succinctness and a form of “Twitter haiku” which has its own elegance. It’s obviously not a long-form, essay style of communicating, so doesn’t make sense to think of it or compare it in that way.

How should I think about Twitter? Twitter is a form of communication. The legal profession is about communicating, so it is natural for lawyers to explore new forms of communication. Even if 90 percent of what’s on Twitter is inane (maybe 99 percent, I don’t know), there are ways to use it usefully, and to cite another recent NY Times piece, even Amish folks who are resistant to new technologies find ways to adopt new communications tools to their purpose.

How should I get started if I want to? Remembering that there are two basic things you can do, tweet (talk) and follow (listen), the sensible thing to do is start by listening and decide if you want to talk. To create an account, go to twitter.com and register (very simple and no loss of privacy). Then click on these links to follow three of the best folks on Twitter:

@edadams (Ed Adams of the ABA Journal)

@VMaryAbraham (Mary Abraham from Debevoise & Plimpton)

@jordan_law21 (Jordan Furlong, formerly of the Canadian Bar Association, and now consultant with Edge International and Stem Legal)

After a month or so of following, think about what you might like to post.

How is Twitter likely to play out in Law? Twitter is a very many-many, reasonably democratic system of communication. Law has traditionally been more hierarchical and one-many. The fundamental trend in law is toward more open communicating, but the legal culture starts in a different place, so there’s no way to know what will happen when it all comes together. The only way to learn is to engage in some fashion.

I have an article coming out shortly in the Legal Marketing Association magazine Strategies on how all this is likely to play out in law. There’s a good blog post from April Ashby on “Why Twitter Shouldn’t Scare Lawyers.”

The ABA now is seeking comments on The Implications of New Technologies (PDF). It’s just the beginning of an interesting process.

Personally, I believe most lawyers will do Twitter-like communicating in more closed systems like my company, Legal OnRamp. In particular, the “micro-blogging” and following aspects of Twitter allow a distributed network of a legal department and their outside counsel to stay in touch and, if they wish, limit access to a control group to manage confidentiality and privilege.

Twitter itself is obviously not for privileged communications, but you can manage that type of functionality within a limited group to maintain confidentiality and privilege. But Twitter is for real and will undoubtedly evolve in interesting and important ways, as have all previous forms of communication from stone tablets to e-mail.

Is Twitter “a constant stream of meaningless babble”? No more or less than the rest of life.

Or, to go back to our HSBC ad theme, Insanity/Necessity.

Paul Lippe is the founder and CEO of the Legal OnRamp, a Silicon Valley-based initiative founded in cooperation with Cisco Systems to improve legal quality and efficiency through collaboration, automation and process re-engineering. Lippe formerly was an executive at the electronic design automation company Synopsys and later was CEO of Stanford SKOLAR, a medical digital library and e-learning company sponsored by Stanford Medical School.

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