The Complete Guide to How Lawyers Should NOT Use Twitter

Twitter For Lawyers: The Complete Guide of What Not to Do! Are you a lawyer looking for tips about how to use Twitter? Okay, so maybe this isn’t a complete guide of what not to do, but Attorney Brian Cuban provides one really great example:

Screen Shot 2011 10 26 at 11.45.54 AM The Complete Guide to How Lawyers Should NOT Use Twitter

Now I’m certainly no legal internet marketing cop. My purpose here is not to admonish this particular firm. While this is bad, I can tell you there’s a whole lot worse being perpetrated by lawyers online. However, I do think it’s worthwhile to share examples like this to help other lawyers understand how not to use web-based communication technologies. I used to coach high school football and one of my favorite sayings from those days was that “you can learn a lot more from a loss than a win.” And this loss is particularly instructive.

Lesson 1: Your Law License

This example presents several teaching moments from a professional responsibility standpoint. How many can you name? You (probably) worked hard to earn your license to practice. LSAT, law school, bar exam. Your license isn’t worth the outside chance that someone might hire you from a solicitweetion.

Admittedly, it’s not likely that using Twitter like this is going to cost you your license. In fact, there’s probably only an outside chance that your state bar would notice at all. And even if they did, they’re more likely to tell you stop it. And if that doesn’t work, they’ll probably just give you a public slap on the wrist.

The real damage here is to your reputation.

Lesson 2: Your Professional Reputation

As a lawyer, you know that your professional reputation is among, if not the, most valuable asset that you have. While rules of professional responsibility don’t legislate taste, your fellow lawyers do. Is using Twitter this way more or less likely to ingratiate you in your legal community? Are lawyers likely to see these tweets and think, “hey that guy knows what he’s doing, I’m going to send referrals his way”?

How about your prospective clients? We may never know whether @tinajuancarlos was impressed, offended, or merely confused by this tweet. My guess is that the thinly veiled sympathy of the tweet received an eye-roll at best, and a deep disgust at worst.

Lesson 3: Outsourcing

As indicated by Mr. Cuban at his blog, this firm hired a media company to tweet on behalf of the firm. This is a much more common practice than many might think. However, wholesale outsourcing of social media demonstrates a fundamental lack of knowledge about social media and networking. Would you hire someone to send text messages to your family, friends, colleagues, and clients? Sounds silly, right? But that’s really what outsourcing tweets is. And putting aside for a moment the ethical problems, and the professional reputation problems, it just doesn’t work. At least it doesn’t work nearly as well as it could.

The ability to connect, meet, share, and discuss online is changing the world. And it can have a positive impact on you as a lawyer. But it’s not a new advertising platform. And it can’t be effectively outsourced to a 21 y.o. freshly graduated marketing major who just took her first job at Legal Social Media Marketing Expert Guru Ninja Agency.

On the other hand, web-based communication tools and online publishing platforms are generally foreign to a whole bunch of lawyers both young and old. And there are people (and even some lawyers) who have a pretty good grasp on how to use these tools to both ethically and effectively have conversations, meet new people, and share information online. And yes, using these tools can add value to your practice. But they’re certainly not worth jeopardizing your standing with your State Bar and your credibility in the legal profession, with your clients, and with the public.

Lesson 4: A Couple Tips on What TO Do

Okay, so now we’ve exhausted one example of what not to do. Here are a couple ideas of what to do:

    • Tweet with people that you know offline – This one seems so simple, but lot’s of folks don’t start here. Guess who might be interested in tweeting with you and won’t rake you over the coals while you’re getting the hang of it? Your friends (okay, if you have friends like mine they’ll probably still rake you over the coals, but you will know it comes from a place of love).
    • Follow people that share common interests – Don’t follow every twitter handle with a picture of a hot girl. Be judicious in who you follow. Follow people that are tweeting stuff you’re interested in. Newsflash, it doesn’t just have to be about your legal practice. You like football? Find folks tweeting about it. You like soup? There are probably people talking about it. Follow them, listen to what they’re saying, create a Twitter list of soup liking people, and introduce yourself.
    • Do more @replying than announcing – Sharing stuff you’ve read and/or written is fine. But no one likes the “look at me kid.” Instead, focus on @replying to people. It’s more conversational. If Twitter is going to have any value to you at all, it will be from connecting and discussing, not because you announced the latest local car accident news.
    • Schedule some time – I get it, you don’t have time to play with the latest and greatest web toys. You’ve got clients to serve. The great thing about the internet is that it’s always on. Spend 5 minutes first thing in the morning checking out Twitter. Schedule a time to tweet with someone you know personally. Attend a scheduled twitter conversation (I can’t remember the official term off the top of my head, but I’m sure someone will remind me). There are many ways to receive and limit notifications from your social media profiles.
    • Here’s a pretty good Twitter for Lawyers reading list.

And here’s a pretty good slide deck by Chris Winfield:

Blogs, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, social media, etc, can truly be amazing. They’re literally changing the way that the world communicates. They can be valuable tools for business, and yes, lawyers. But thinking that they’re going to “make it rain” or “make you rich” is like thinking your letterhead or your cell phone is going to make you rich. C’mon man.

Legal Ethics, Legal Marketing

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  • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

    If you won’t admonish, I will. It’s like this firm read everything it could about how to get in trouble using social media, and then went ahead and did it, anyway.

  • http://www.pacificip.ca Jennifer

    Gyi, Thanks for the post! I think it really comes down to a bit of common sense. I would be interested in your comments about following clients twitter accounts, particularly small business owners etc. Because of the nature of my practice (IP), I do not want to compromise my client’s confidentiality.

  • Just Me

    Gyi, is the term you’re looking for “Tweetup”?

    Jennifer, I do follow my clients on Twitter; but I also follow a lot of businesses and business owners that I am not working for, sometimes because they are interesting and sometimes because I would like to work for them. I see no reason to think that anyone would know which accounts I follow are clients and which are not. Just don’t create a “Clients” list.

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

      I think that’s when you meet up offline. I think Gyi is talking about using Twitter like an instant messaging service. Let’s call it “twessaging.”

      • http://www.attorneysync.com Gyi Tsakalakis

        Yep, Sam’s got it. I was accused of wrongly using “tweetup” before. I try to avoid social media jargon, at least until we can all agree on it…

  • Stephen

    Is this “virtual” ambulance chasing? I wonder if someone turned them in already because they sure did delete the tweets in that screenshot!

  • http://trial-technology.blogspot.com Ted Brooks

    Another amazing waste of money by supposedly well-educated people (attorneys) comes in the form of hiring these same companies to drive web site or blog traffic by posting comments on other blogs. While that might work to some degree, I will say that I have done several firms a favor by not posting these comments to my blog, which are usually off-point, use poor grammar (I’m talking non-English-speaking poor), and the spelling of a 7 year-old. Some of the same crap is showing up on LinkedIn posts.

    Just think about it – if everyone can sign up for a guaranteed top position on Google, now how does that work?