Tweet talk: Lawyers on how Twitter helps and hinders their business – Reuters

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(Reuters) – As a legal journalist, I’m a big fan of lawyers who tweet. After all, what’s handier than being served up breaking news and opinion (plus an occasional dog photo) in 280-character soundbites?
Still, I sometimes wonder what’s in it for the lawyers. Do any of them actually get new business or other tangible benefits from tweeting?
I reached out to half a dozen lawyers in private practice who’ve amassed at least 10,000 followers to ask them what motivates them to tweet. Because it strikes me that it takes a certain boldness to do it successfully and a willingness to risk giving offense — not the prevailing Big Law ethos.
The American Bar Association in a survey last year reported that 81% of lawyers use social media for professional purposes. LinkedIn was by far the most popular platform, used by 90% of respondents to, say, post their resumes, wish people happy work anniversaries and generally offend no one.
But as the old saying goes: No guts, no glory.
Only 17% of lawyers using social media reported being active on Twitter – and from what I can tell, many of them don’t use their real names, going instead by cute monikers like Copy(right) Cat, EsqTired or Barred and Bearded (to cite the first three that popped up on my feed).
But for those brave JDs who tweet without a pseudonym and who do it regularly, forthrightly and authentically, the results can be significant.
For example, commercial litigator Akiva Cohen of Kamerman, Uncyk, Soniker & Klein, who has 25,600 followers, told me he landed a major corporate client (he asked that I not name the company, per the client’s request) as a direct result of his Twitter posts.
The company’s general counsel followed Cohen on Twitter and saw how he used the platform to explain legal issues “in a way that lay people understand,” Cohen said. “It’s a skill set that general counsel know is relevant in litigating a case.”
But Cohen also called his business-generation success atypical – an observation borne out by other lawyers who shared their experiences with me.
Twitter “is not where serious clients look for serious lawyers,” said New York criminal defense lawyer Scott Greenfield, who has 18,900 followers.
Yes, people have expressed interest in hiring him based on his tweets, he told me, but they’re either broke or “have insane ideas about the law and want to sue the president of the United States for spying on them.”
Likewise, solo appellate lawyer Howard Bashman, who has 13,800 followers and is the author of the “How Appealing” blog, said Twitter “is not an active business-generation tool for me.”
Florida-based criminal defense attorney Ron Filipkowski, who has a whopping 287,800 followers and often tweets about his work investigating right-wing extremism, said that Twitter has actually been detrimental to his business.
Twitter “has in no way has benefited my practice,” he told me. “If anything, it has hurt it. Several people have posted anonymous reviews on my Google business page (who) have never been clients because they don't like something I did on Twitter.”
Which brings me back to my original question: Why tweet then?
Hogan Lovells appellate partner Sean Marotta, who has 20,800 followers, laid out multiple reasons, even while acknowledging that: “If you go on Twitter and think someone will call you and say, ‘I want the funny man with the cute kids to handle my Supreme Court merits argument,’” well, that’s not how it works.
(For the record, Marotta is funny and his kids — whom he refers to simply as the 5-year-old and the 3-year-old without sharing their names — are indeed cute. But point taken.)
Marotta told me he became interested in Twitter as an ambitious associate, scouring the platform to pass on breaking legal news to partners. Over time, he said, he began to post substantive comments on areas of law where he had insight.
He sees two primary benefits. The first is profile building. “Twitter is where all the reporters are,” he said. (Um … guilty as charged.) He said he’s been quoted multiple times as a result of his tweets.
It’s also a means of network building, Marotta said. For example, when he had his first-ever appellate argument in New Mexico state court, he reached out to a Twitter connection for a model brief.
He also appreciates how Twitter “breaks down barriers between the elite legal establishment and people who are curious about the practice of law.”
And it doesn't need to be strictly transactional.
Cohen told me that he views it as “the most enjoyable business development time I can spend,” allowing him to “read, talk about the law and educate people.”
At the same time, he said, lawyers who worry endlessly that “If I post this, will I get in trouble?” are not likely to attract many followers. And indeed, his follower count shot up after he started offering critical takes on the 2020 election litigation.
Being sharp and insightful isn’t the same as being nasty, though.
Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison partner Kannon Shanmugam said via email that his “two golden rules are not to talk about politics and not to say anything negative about anyone (except the University of Missouri).”
The Kansas native (and diehard Jayhawks fan — suffice to say there's a rivalry with Mizzou) added that he views Twitter “as a less stodgy way to talk about our office and our practice and also to convey a sense of my interests away from the law. I’m continually surprised at how often recruits, other lawyers, and even clients say they follow me on social media.”
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Opinions expressed are those of the author. They do not reflect the views of Reuters News, which, under the Trust Principles, is committed to integrity, independence, and freedom from bias.
Jenna Greene writes about legal business and culture, taking a broad look at trends in the profession, faces behind the cases, and quirky courtroom dramas. A longtime chronicler of the legal industry and high-profile litigation, she lives in Northern California. Reach Greene at jenna.greene@thomsonreuters.com
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