What is Twitter?
Twitter is a social networking tool. Users post frequent, brief updates in 140 characters or less. These updates are known as “tweets.” People are able to “follow” the tweets of people they find interesting. People who post the tweets can make them public or private. Private users have the ability to control who is permitted to “follow” them. Followers have the ability to reply to tweets. Tweets can be viewed on Twitter’s web site (twitter.com), with instant messaging software, or with mobile devices. A tweet is like a text message, but instead of going to a single person, the message can go to anyone interested in receiving it. Importantly, tweets can also be searched by keyword, so users can find people who are tweeting about topics in which they are interested.
How Lawyers Are Using It
Lawyers are using Twitter for many of the same reasons as other members of the public: to stay in touch with friends and family, follow current events, keep up with Shaquille O’Neal’s daily musings, etc. Many lawyers are also finding that Twitter can help them professionally.
You will meet new people on Twitter, and you may find people you already know. These people may be current clients, people who could become clients, or people who could refer clients to you. Twitter can also help lawyers connect with each other. Lawyers can track hot topics in their practice areas and develop relationships with other attorneys doing similar work.
Lawyers and law firms are using Twitter as a vehicle for disseminating information about themselves. CNN, FoxNews, and other news organizations distribute news via Twitter. The White House, federal agencies, and members of congress are among the many government sources that use Twitter. You and your organization can use Twitter to get the word out about what you are doing.
News and information gathering
Twitter allows for real-time newsgathering. When an earthquake hit Southern California last summer, people were reporting the news on Twitter seconds later. A Wichita Eagle reporter, while covering a murder trial in Kansas, put information about the trial on Twitter as events unfolded.
The ability to search tweets allows an attorney to see what people are talking about. What are people saying about your client on Twitter? What are people saying about you on Twitter?
Getting started on Twitter is easy. Simply go to Twitter and create either a public or private account. After you register, you will need to decide who to begin following. If you are not sure who to follow, you may find this list of legal professionals who are tweeting (tinyurl.com/6oogwr) helpful. Find someone who you are interested in following, then see who is following them, and so on.
Possible Problems with Twitter
Be careful what you say. A casual tool, such as Twitter, can lull users into informal communication that is not professionally appropriate. Potential problems for lawyers include:
• revealing privileged or confidential information;
• unintentionally creating attorney-client relationships by sending messages that could be construed as legal advice;
• exposing self or organization to claims of defamation; and
• violating ethical rules against advertising and solicitation.
Lawyers generally know how to avoid these problems with other forms of communication. With a little care, they can be avoided on Twitter as well.
Matthew Steinke is a reference librarian at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law where he manages the Library’s government documents and provides reference services to faculty, staff, and students. He also teaches a section of legal research for first-year students. Prior to joining the Moritz Law Library, Matt worked as an attorney practicing law in Dayton, Ohio, with the firm Altick & Corwin.
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