Twitter: Top 10 tips for lawyers

23 Jun 2014 | 6 min read

Twitter.

There I've said it. For many professionals Twitter has a bizarre talismanic quality. Don't go anywhere near it! People who use it are insipid, self-serving narcissists.

Just like actors who daren't utter Macbeth and force themselves to mumble the Scottish Play instead, lawyers who mention Twitter are often forced to perform elaborate cleansing rituals to ward off the evil that will ensue. How many times have we all heard a lawyer accidentally quote the 'T' word and then watch as he is unceremoniously bundled from the office, forced to spin around with a tie looped around his head whilst shouting 'TWITTER' three times at the top of his voice?

Never?

Fair enough. But I think that my point is made: there really is no reason to be afraid of the 'T' word.

I've been on Twitter for over a year now and I am a genuine convert—not in that icky, happy-clappy sort of way; more in quiet, low-key 'how-did-I-used-to-cope-without-this?' sort of way. 

My world has not collapsed into a shallow wormhole of meaningless trivia.

So why join? Simply put: you can follow what your clients are doing. You can follow what your competitors are doing. You can follow what Stephen Fry @stephenfry is doing (you are entitled to a bit of fun too).

For many businesses Twitter is now their first port of call for information that they want to get out there. Quickly. If you are not on Twitter you are potentially missing out on an important conduit for information.

On the flip side of the coin, Twitter is an easy way of letting your clients know what you are up to. You can remind them about upcoming changes in the law. Or perhaps you have a seminar that you need to advertise more widely?

And let's not forget, above all, where technology is taking us. It is said that e-mails are now as good as dead for many university students. Over the years I have noticed fewer and fewer colleagues making phone calls. Habits change. People migrate to different communication platforms. If you don't migrate with them, where does that leave you?

So, here’s Comet’s top ten tips for lawyers to navigate Twitter:

  1. Why are you on Twitter? Well, for a start, it should ideally be for the reasons highlighted above. That said, it is also useful to direct your energies into one main activity, at least in the beginning. Are you profile-raising? Perhaps you are selling your services? Or simply gathering information? Work out why you are there and stay focussed on it
  2. Who to follow: for lawyers this should start with LexisPSL Commercial (I would say that) and then, in no particular order, government departments, Parliament,  the Law SocietySRA, your clients and so on. The list is as long as your imagination and how many individuals and businesses you have the time to follow, although the more you follow, the more clogged your timeline may become. Stuck already? A beginner's list for commercial lawyers is set out at the end of this post
  3. Keep it shorter than 140 characters: when you tweet you have 140 characters to play with. Even so, try to keep it as brief as possible. Knock out all extraneous words and convoluted grammatical constructions. Many Twitter experts suggest that 100 words is a good amount to aim for. Don't forget that if you're replying to a user or using a hashtag (see below), this uses up your character allowance
  4. Links: OK, so 100-140 characters is typically not enough. I accept that. I'd struggle, to be honest, to explain the Magna Carta or the Sales of Goods Act 1979 in such a limited space. So, now and again, you are likely to want to refer to material where you are allowed to use more old-fashioned concepts such as 'sentences' and 'paragraphs'. Think creatively to entice your audience to click through to that material: 'this is our article on the new law on contracts' isn't going to have your clients frantically clicking on their mice, but 'why your contracts might be unenforceable from next Friday' will certainly grab their attention
  5. Tone of voice: Twitter is personable and chatty but be careful not to let your professional standards drop. You don't need to 'get down with the kids' but equally you don't want to sound like a fusty Victorian judge. As always, balance is the key
  6. Hashtags: A hashtag ('#') is a sneaky way of getting more traction for a tweet. A current good example is #WorldCup2014. Use this # in a tweet and your tweet will be delivered directly to the audience searching against it. Personally, I try not to use more than two hashtags in a tweet #otherwise #it #becomes #almost #impossible #to #read. Common hashtag words for lawyers are, unsurprisingly, #law and #uklaw. But to connect with individuals who are really interested in what you have to say you need to be more specific. Legal conferences or seminars often assign a unique # to their event, a guaranteed way to deliver relevant content to the online audience who couldn’t attend in person 
  7. Timing: Timing is everything. Work out when it is a good time to tweet. For many law firms this will be when their typical follower has some downtime: on the commute, at lunch, early evening...
  8. Enter conversations: Don't be a Twitter wallflower. If an interesting conversation is taking place, join in. Remember, however, that whilst your conversational footprint in a pub is as fleeting as the pint in your hand, in the Twittersphere it is permanent. Case in point: the 'innocent face' tweet from Sally Bercow. Had she said that in a pub, I doubt very much that I would be discussing it here
  9. Hunt the influencers: Some people have been on Twitter since 1873. They have thousands of followers. Engage with them. Join in their conversations. The 'Tweeters That Be' may retweet one of your links to a legal article. They may comment on a blog post. Before you know it, some of their followers have been led down the trail of honey and are now following you
  10. Images: Twitter is increasingly a visual medium. The problem is that the law isn't unless you want to resort to clichéd images of bewigged judges or the famed scales of justice. Yawn. So how do you get around this seemingly intractable problem? A nifty cheat is to use apps such as Recite This (see the tweet below). This site allows you to turn text into pleasing 'mini-posters': an image of sorts which also allows you to get more of your message across if needs be

Last, but by no means least, consider the Law Society guidance on social media and whether, in conjunction with this, you should do a brief course on how to use Twitter effectively. Evening courses can be as little as £50 and can offer a wealth of handy tips. I'd also recommend this personal blog piece from Melanie in the Comet team: Twitter Best Practice Tips for In-house Counsel

Good luck and, above all, have fun!

So, do you use Twitter? If not, do you reckon you will? What are the best things about Twitter? And the worst? As always, let us have your thoughts below. 

Good legal Twitter feeds to follow:

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