For instance, because a single Twitter posting is limited to 140 characters in total, a lawyer may not be able to include the state-specific disclosure and disclaimer requirements within the 140 character limit – effectively limiting him from using the site as a professional altogether. While this may not seem like a big loss at first, such preclusion could eventually create a larger problem by muting public discourse on the state of the law by professionals. For those who scoff at the idea of twitter being an important venue for public discourse, they need only look to the events of the Arab Spring or Occupy Wall Street movements to see why this medium is, indeed, a significant venue for public discourse. As social media continues to grow and the impact of the participants’ speech creates larger global movements, the legal profession will be increasingly handicapped by an inability to participate in and/or observe those important online discussions. If a lawyer’s duties include speaking for people, it would seem incongruous with that duty to cut them off from the modern megaphone for the vox populi.
Furthermore, restriction from social media participation could impact the ability of knowledgeable professionals to share their thoughts and lessons learned, and even opine on the state of the law – something that has always been viewed as protected under the 1st amendment and as vital to the advance of the legal profession. Carol O’Riordan provides a good example of how Virginia Bar Counsel’s position could slip us all down a very slippery slope: “Heretofore, interviews of legal luminaries and of those who have achieved breakthroughs, have been welcomed, be they live, recorded or in print…This week, the National Law Journal profiled Manatt, Phelps & Phillips’ successful defense of the former head of St. Vincent’s Medical Program. Will that interview provide Manatt, Phelps & Phillips’ Kenneth Julian with publicity that will likely help him expand his client base? Undoubtedly. Will it also perhaps lead to insightful comments for consideration by members of the defense bar, by regulators, by academics and by legislators? Absolutely – and therefore it should be encouraged. So should blog posts by attorneys.”
Another reason why twitter is important to the legal community is the economic factor. The legal market, like nearly all others, is suffering in the wake of the financial crisis of 2008. Accordingly, social media may become a necessary outlet for attorneys that can’t afford to advertise through expensive traditional means such as print and television advertising. For those who doubt the importance of social media as a business tool for lawyers, the following analysis of twitter’s recent global information and marketing explosion illustrates just how powerful this tool has become, and why it is critical for lawyers maintain access to it.
It is important to note that neither the following analysis, nor this series as a whole posits that twitter’s importance to lawyers as a marketing tool justifies misleading the public. Rather, the significance of this and other forms of social media indicates that the rules should be modified as not to preclude attorneys from engaging in these practices altogether. By clarifying which online practices require the use of certain disclaimers and/or by adopting shorter state-specific disclaimers (or allowing attorneys to include shortened hyperlinks to the longer disclaimers) in social media postings, the public may still be afforded disclaimer protection and attorney’s can benefit from the using of social media without violating ethics rules.
Twitter’s importance to the legal profession is illustrated by the number of new companies that have been created with the sole purpose of developing and managing social networking profiles for lawyers on twitter. Furthermore, many of these new companies were created by attorneys who left the legal profession after recognizing the immense business development and marketing power that twitter could provide for legal professionals, and the volume of practitioners who were willing to pay for assistance in managing a twitter profile with a significant “online presence”. Ex-attorney pioneers of this burgeoning online legal marketing field have already reaped millions thanks to generous buyouts from legal giants like LexisNexis. Such massive investments into the field of “social networking profile development” by companies like LexisNexis indicate that the traditional legal business and marketing sector sees true value and growth potential in not only these online tools, but the capacity for more legal professionals to adopt them as mainstream.