Every so often, a topic explodes into the legal blogosphere and gets everyone talking. We’re seeing one of those explosions right now, thanks to Twitter. If you haven’t heard of Twitter, or if you have but you’re not sure just what it is, you can read the Wikipedia entry for a general backgrounder. If you’re looking for the lawyer’s angle on Twitter, I strongly recommend this article by Steve Matthews at Stem Legal, (and check out Steve’s ingenious legal tweet site, Legal Voices), but there’s great stuff in recent blog entries by Doug Cornelius, Connie Crosby and Kevin O’Keefe too, to name just a few.
Unlike all these folks, though, and many more lawyers besides, I’m not on Twitter — not yet, anyway. This isn’t because I don’t see the value, which most certainly is there from a marketing or micro-blogging perspective (not to mention emergency communication uses). My primary obstacle to Twittering is that I don’t have a wireless PDA or Blackberry, and, the good Lord willing, I never will — I’m quite happy to be unburdened by the expectation of 24/7 reachability.
There’s also the problem of limited time and attention: I’m barely able to to get through the morning newspaper, and the only magazine I subscribe to (The Economist) can go unread for weeks at a time — if I subscribed to Twitter, I’d very probably miss most of the traffic. But maybe most fundamentally, I just don’t have enough interesting things to say that often. This blog is about it, folks. Status updates at home would look like “Refusing Claire’s entreaties to watch another episode of The Backyardigans,” while tweets at work would be a fairly constant stream of “Editing another article.” I think the world can get along without that, and maybe the Internet ecosphere would benefit too.
Anyway, my primary interest in Twitter is to wonder if there are lawyer applications beyond marketing and publishing, and I think there might be. I’d be interested in seeing how lawyers use Twitter as a client communications tool. Twitter offers lawyers the chance to issue instant, real-time statements wherever they are, to clients who avail themselves of the Twitter service (and more of them do every day). Here are some ways that might deliver value to clients:
1. GPS tracker. Clients who want to get hold of their lawyer don’t get much help from an out-of-office autoreply e-mail. But a Twittered status update — “Going into motions hearing @ 10:15, incommunicado till 11:30” or “Leaving office to visit client @ 2:40, in meetings from 3:30 on” — provides clients with more information than “I’m away from my desk.” Better yet, it allows the lawyer to issue “blackout period” notifications — “I’m unavailable at these times for this reason” — which I like because it could help restore to lawyers even a small degree of control over their accessibility (cf. the expectation of 24/7 reachability, above).
2. Bulletin newsbreaker. Say a significant court decision affecting your client’s industry has just come down, or a key competitor has just issued a revised profit forecast. You could e-mail the news, and hope the client happens to be looking at her overloaded Inbox at that moment. You could blog it, if you owned a blog and had time to post something and were anywhere near a web interface. Or you could take 60 seconds to punch out a 140-character tweet to your client Twitter users, and thereby gain the full breaking-news benefit. Do this a few times and your client will start tracking your tweets for need-to-know news, and how cool would that be?
3. Link recommender. It almost seems as if TinyURL, the invaluable little site that transforms long, unwieldy web addresses into six-character TinyURL suffixes, was designed years ago with Twitter and its strict character limits in mind. Quite regularly, a lawyer comes across an article that would be of interest or utility to a client, but most times those links go unforwarded, are bundled into a newsletter, or maybe form part of a series-of-links blog post — no immediacy and not a whole lot of impact. Instead, try Twittering a recommended item (with a TinyURL hyperlink) to your client once a day, and if it’s good-quality stuff, your client will start to look forward to your daily dose of twitter recommendations.
Can you suggest other client-facing Twitter uses? Twittering has the potential to become a unique and valued form of communication — it’s basically a Web 2.0 version of Instant Messaging — and good communication is one of the critical characteristics of a great lawyer-client relationship. Think about whether and how Twitter could help improve or add new dimensions to your own communications with clients, and if so, take the plunge and be an early adopter of this new technology. And if you do, let me know what it’s like. I might yet change my mind….