A brief intro to lawyers on Twitter

Sarah Peterson Herr, a research lawyer with the Kansas Court of Appeals, recently learned the hard way that putting your opinions out on Twitter can get a lawyer in trouble. After calling a former state attorney general now facing ethics charges a “douche bag,” Herr found herself out of a job.

We lawyers can be an opinionated bunch. Indeed, that’s probably why we went to law school in the first place. And it turns out that Twitter, the wildly successful social media site that allows user to post “tweets” of up to 140 characters in length, was practically made for people in the legal profession.

How much information can you post in just 140 characters? Quite a bit, it turns out. Many lawyers, legal writers, law firms, law professors, and even courts are using the service to promote their services, release breaking news, comment on, and debate important issues — as seen with last week’s vibrant articling debate in Ontario.

Here are some of my picks to get you started on Twitter.

Toronto lawyer Garry J. Wise, in particular, has turned his Twitter feed (@wiselaw) into a must-read for Canadian lawyers, especially those practising family law. As I write this, he has posted 20 tweets — on everything from disciplinary proceedings before the Law Society of Upper Canada, to a constitutional challenge to warnings on cigarette packages, to news about a major discovery on Mars.

If only he’d use his Twitter account to tell us how he manages to go without sleep.

Like many Twitter users, Wise uses his feed as an extension of his blog (which actually features a daily recap of his tweets). Some other popular legal bloggers are also using Twitter not just to link to new posts, but also for further comment on their specialty areas.

Another Torontonian, Bob Tarantino of Heenan Blaikie and the Entertainment and Media Law Signal blog, (@bobtarantino) regularly contributes to substantive and informative debates about recent case law and proposed policy changes(interestingly, despite his focus on media issues, he’s particularly good at challenging lawyers’ conventional wisdom on criminal justice policy).

Likewise, Michael Geist of the University of Ottawa, (@mgeist) Canada’s premier commentator on Internet law, should also be on your must-follow list.

Then there are commentators who aren’t practising lawyers, but who regularly post informative and thought-provoking commentary about legal issues. The Ottawa Citizen’s Dan Gardner (@dgardner) is particularly good on drug policy, the unintended consequences of laws passed with the best intentions, and infuriating hypocrisy of politicians and partisans on all sides (right-wingers accuse Gardner of being a lefty, while left-wingers call him a right-winger, which suggests he must be doing something right).

Even case law is now regularly available on Twitter.

Here in Nova Scotia, links to newly published decisions are posted at @CourtsNS_NSSC and @CourtsNS_NSCA, with news about judicial appointments, dockets and webcam broadcasts at @CourtsNS_News. The Supreme Court of Canada doesn’t appear to have its own Twitter feed yet, but an unofficial account (@CanCourtsSCC) posts links to newly released decisions from our highest court. And Ottawa appellate counsel Eugene Meehan is quick to follow with commentary at @supremeadvocacy.

This hardly begins to cover the number of excellent, informative and entertaining legal Twitter feeds (I can’t go without mentioning Canadian Lawyer’s own @CanLawMag and @LegalFeedsblog accounts, of course). Fortunately, Twitter lets you create lists of selected feeds, which in turn can be followed by other Twitter users. I’ve set up such a list, featuring lawyers, professors, journalists, law firms, publications, and courts, here.

But that’s just a start. Part of the fun of Twitter is finding other feeds, usually through interactions with accounts you’re already following. Unless the user specifically sets his or her account to “private,” it can be read by anyone, so get out there and explore.

Of course, as the unfortunate Ms. Herr found out, be careful what you tweet. And be sure to make room for some pure silliness, like “Not a Cop” (@notpolice), a “17 year-old” who posts things like “Any 5’11, 180lbs Caucasian males last seen wearing a black hoody and jeans wanna party tonight? Hit me up.” and “RT if you hate homework! LOL, or if you have shoplifted anything from the Walmart on Cherry Street recently.”

Well, it could work. . . .

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