Thinking Big: Lawyers and Twitter

November 08, 2013

Yesterday was Twitter’s IPO.

As it happens, while walking through Boston’s financial district yesterday morning, I came across Bijan Sabet of Spark Capital – one of Twitter’s lead investors. He was walking alone, briskly, and on a call, so I simply said “congratulations” as we passed each other. He smiled and nodded.

How cool must his day have been?

That chance encounter got me thinking a bit about Twitter and what impact it could have on lawyers in the future. Of course there’s the e-discovery implications, the potential for liability, and all the new self-promotion. People think lawyers hate technology? Not when it means more (a) discovery, (b) lawsuits, and (3) marketing.

But I think Twitter could have a more profound impact on the legal industry, in large part because it’s going to force us to come to terms with a very different way of communicating, as this image from Twitter’s S-1 helps show:

Twitter IPO image


Although laws are public and the legal system operates (mostly) in the public eye, lawyers are not really public creatures. We prefer privacy, secrecy, fewer eyes – even when it comes to the public nature of much of our work. But Twitter is going to force the legal system to fulfill its promise of openness and transparency. How far away are we from courts auto-tweeting decisions, from firms tweeting non-confidential work product such as briefs, from anyone live-tweeting court proceedings? Real-Time

Immediacy. Spontaneity. Reaction rather than reflection. Not typically how lawyers behave, right? Perhaps Twitter will push us in that direction, reducing the amount of time we have to contemplate, and forcing us instead to react to situations as they develop. We’ll move closer to advising clients in real-time, as events happen, and helping to resolve disputes efficiently as they emerge, rather than waiting to fight over liability and remedies once the dust settles. Conversational

Lawyers like formal, structured, sterile communication. Thirty-page briefs, with oppositions, replies, rebuttals, sur-rebuttals. Hours-long oral arguments. Fifty-page contracts. Twitter is the opposite. It forces succinctness and rewards informality. It breeds familiarity and intimacy. Lawyers will have to adapt the way we communicate to our clients and each other. We might even have to learn how to express our own points of view and show a bit of personality. Distributed

On Twitter, your potential audience is anyone. Lawyers are very skilled at adapting their messages to specific audiences. We almost always know exactly who we’re talking to, what information we’re trying to obtain, and what reaction we’re trying to cause. Twitter redefines “audience” to mean “those who wish to listen” rather than “those to whom you’re speaking.” And not just for things you say on Twitter. Your comments at conferences, panels, meetings, in court, etc. are all fair game for others to convey to the world through Twitter. That loss of control can be a scary proposition for lawyers, but it’s the new reality.

No one really knows what impact Twitter will have on lawyers in future years. But it’s clear that Twitter is much more than “social media.” I for one believe avoidance is not an option.

We shall see.