March 7th, 2017

The Twitter Fail by Trial Lawyers

You may think that there is too much ” advertising or marketing by trial lawyers. And in one sense you are right if you think in terms of subway ads, or worse (ads over urinals or at funeral home web sites).

But you know what? There is one group that does a pretty lousy job of getting its message out, at least insofar as it pertains to Twitter. And that is our trial lawyer associations — those groups of lawyers that have pooled our resources in order to advocate for consumers so that rights are not stripped away.

Despite Twitter being cheap, easy and very effective in getting a message out to the general populace (as should be abundantly obvious now given the recent election), the various trial lawyer associations do a crappy job.

I’ll pick on the American Association for Justice today, of which I am a card-carrying member. With 56,000 members, this is the single most prominent national trial lawyer group in the country that fights for a fair and effective civil justice system.

The group not only lobbies Congress, but has a wide range of sections devoted to different practice areas, and publications to meet most any need. If you represent injured people as part of your practice, there is no doubt you should be a member.

But I am flummoxed by the lack of something so simple – social media outreach to those that aren’t trial lawyers. To “regular people” who very much have a vested interest in the outcome of, say, the attempt to grant immunity to medical practitioners or to knee-cap class action suits.

The AAJ Twitter feed has just 6,000 followers. While a large number of followers isn’t always meaningful, since phony “ghost” followers can be bought, a relatively low number of followers for a large organization is indicative of a failure to adequately utilize the medium.

AAJ’s  contribution to the masses via this forum consists of mostly just posting its own stories. There is little engagement with others. No re-tweeting of articles written by others. No responsive public commentary on issues of the day that matter to people likely to be affected.

The AAJ Twitter feed acts, for the most part, as little more than another means of distributing press releases and research reports. But it fails at this.

How do I know it fails? Because few of its tweets have been shared more than 10 times. That is, quite simply, a dreadful track record.

If we are going to put all the time, money and effort into creating research reports — that debunk myths and use empirical data instead of relying on anecdotes — shouldn’t we spend a little time actively promoting those reports and get them out into the public?

The more folks that read them, the more that share them, the more likely it becomes a subject of town hall meetings and additional press. Don’t we want regular folk calling their elected representatives regarding the evisceration of rights?

It takes time to build up relationships with other people, particularly those with a voice likely to rebroadcast messages. The best time to start doing this was a few years ago. The second best time is today.

AAJ should be doing everything it can to encourage, and maximize, the voices of those that are fighting for the same thing — fair access to the courts.

State trial lawyer associations are, for the most part, no better. Every state, to my knowledge, has a trial lawyer association. But few are utilizing a widely used and free platform to get the messages out to those that may lose rights.

Tort “reform” was not part of the election — if it was ever mentioned by Trump or Clinton I missed it.

But with Republicans in charge now of House, Senate and White House, it sure as hell is on the front burner now.

So please, get out there, engage, and be more active in getting the messages out. Today, not tomorrow.


March 15th, 2013

The Death of RSS and the Rise of Twitter

twitterWhen news broke yesterday that Google was dumping GoogleReader there were two kinds of reactions from bloggers noted Bruce Carton at Legal Blog Watch: Those for whom it was the end of the world and those who shrugged.

Carton was in full panic mode. I was a shrugger. I stopped using my RSS feed about a year or two ago, as it simply died a slow death for me.

And that’s because most anyone that I would have followed on RSS is placing links to their blog posts on Twitter. And Twitter also had the advantage of having (short) comments on those blog posts, which might also give you an idea if something was interesting or contentious. RSS was not just redundant, but inferior. (And, as I noted the other day, it can make you a better writer of legal briefs.)

Between Twitter, RSS, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Instagram, blog post comments, YouTube, listservs, all manner of open discussion forums and whatever else is incubating now that I don’t know about, participating online can easily be a 24/7 job/hobby/distraction. But I have a real job and a real family, as most of you do, and I have to pick and choose. RSS lost. I also have an account at LinkedIn that I rarely check/use, I stopped using forums years ago, and I haven’t yet figured out what to do with Google+, or had the time to explore it.

I haven’t always been a fan of Twitter, and ripped it right after it came out. But I’ve come to appreciate its utility, an appreciation that comes only by carefully screening those I might follow.

When someone follows me, I generally look at their last three tweets (or “twits” as Scott Greenfield quite appropriately calls them). If those tweets are about a local accident, in the desperate hope the victim will log on to Twitter and find this brilliance, I know this is not a person to follow. So too with anyone in legal marketing. I need more phone calls and emails from these hucksters like I need a hole in the head.

But worse still are those that respond to an individual with something like “Ha!”, apparently forgetting that many others will see this gibberish, not just the one that sent the message being responded to. And even worse are those that write, “Thanks for the RT!” Thanks for sharing your insecurity with me by noting how important an RT is to you.

Why anyone would want this crap clogging their Twitter feed and rendering it useless is beyond me. Links and short comments on relevant stories are what works.

And you know those folks that are following thousands of others? It’s pretty clear such folks are not reading their own Twitter feeds. I don’t give a damn if they follow me or not.

Last year I spoke at a conference on social media down in Washington DC. And a woman that followed after me was hit by an audience question: If someone follows you on Twitter, are you supposed to follow them back? “Yes!” she cried, as that was the polite thing to do. I almost fell off my chair as I recognized the entire audience had just become dumber for having heard this.

Twitter can be a good tool that certainly replaces RSS. Just be sure to carefully cull the list of those you follow. You can follow me if you want (@Turkewitz) but don’t be upset if I don’t follow back. My brain has a limited capacity.

That’s my two pesos. Bruce Carton’s mileage will vary. And remember that no one will ever put the number of your Twitter follows on your headstone.

Elsewhere on the subject:

Really Simple Sign of the Future (Greenfield)

The End of GoogleReader: A Sign of Blogging’s Decline and Lessons for Lawyers (Elefant)



March 12th, 2013

Legal Briefs, Twitter Style

twitterLawyers love to write. And write. And write. Some “briefs” go on for dozens of pages, with the author often scrambling around in search of an issue, much to the pain and frustration of the reader.

Does using Twitter help, given that writers are constrained to only 140 characters?

Yesterday I tweeted a story from the NY Post about a  lawyer that wanted to exclude all Jews from a jury, claiming that with his militant Islamist client “that there’s going to be inflammatory testimony about Jews and Zionism, I think it would be hard for Jews to cast aside any innate antipathy.”

But despite the limitations of Twitter, and the highly charged nature of the lawyer’s claim, a few lawyers were able to brief the subject anyway:

Max Kennerly took a shot:

Seems to me he could cure most of the assumed problems in voir dire, w/o categorical exclusion RT @bcuban@Turkewitz

And then Ted Frank:

@MaxKennerly @bcuban @turkewitz Inducing error at this trial gives client free bite at apple; if guilty verdict, new lawyer gets reversal.

And David Sugerman:

@tedfrank Huh? I’m no crim law expert, but invited error. Def gets reversal for getting relief def sought??@MaxKennerly @bcuban @Turkewitz

And Ted Frank again:

@DavidSug @maxkennerly @bcuban @turkewitz Ineffective assistance; plus defendant has standing to raise constitutional injury to juror.

Of course, because each lawyer was using the @ symbol to copy others, they were each using even less than the full allotment of 140 characters.

Did they do a full and complete job discussing the story? Of course not. But using very few words each of them undertook the most essential part of lawyering: issue identification. Because if you can’t identify issues, you won’t succeed writing any kind of brief.

Twitter, while a pretty big waste of time for many, can also be used as a teaching tool. If you force lawyers to state their case in 140 characters, it forces them to remove extraneous information and argument.

Legal writing guru Bryan Garner teaches lawyers to frame their issues in just 75 words. If you can’t do that, he argues, you haven’t sufficiently identified the issue and simplified your writing. Think of Twitter as a more extreme form of Garner’s 75-word rule.



February 1st, 2012

Trial Prep and Twitter

Last week I was on trial — at three days it was the shortest one I ever had — and my trial prep included this: Deleting any Twitter messages that were political. My first post on Twitter was thee years ago, January 29, 2009. Since then I have made about 800+ posts.

So the few tweets on politics that I’ve made were taken down. None were overboard on anything — regular readers know that ad hominem attack isn’t exactly the way I write — but why take the chance?

The problem is that no matter how many times a juror is told to avoid looking up the people involved, some folks can’t help themselves. They might look up the lawyer. They might see the Twitter stream.

Despite what people think of New York as a bastion of liberalism, we have plenty of conservatives. Our recent past had Rudy Giuliani as NYC mayor and George Pataki as Governor. It doesn’t really matter if you are on the left or right of the political aisle, it is guarnateed that out of a jury pool some will have differing opinions.

And if you are the party with the burden of proof in a personal injury case (me) then you can’t afford to piss anyone off. This is particularly true in a presidential election year when politics dominates the news more so than at other times.

The same problem exists for web sites, of course.  I’ve always cognizant of this (see, I Hate My Website from 2009) and try to govern myself accordingly. While there are some folks who take down their websites and replace them when on trial (or so I have heard) that isn’t something I’ve ever done.

Since no one generally cares about any tweet that is more than 10 nanoseconds old, this isn’t really an issue. But one person might care, that being the juror. So down they come.

Of course, the opposite might be true for criminal defense lawyers. With the burden on the prosecution, they need only convince that one lonely holdout. They may have a completely different view of keeping contentious political commentary up in place.


January 14th, 2012

Is “Article III Clerk” for Real? (Updated)

photo credit: FrogMiller, close up of US Constitution from National Archives

Have I seen this play before? A young guy, believing he is anonymous, spews on the web. When we last saw the show, it was starring  a doctor known as Flea writing about his malpractice trial. He ended out on the front page of the Boston Globe.

Today we may be seeing the reincarnation of Flea, in the Twitter persona of Article III Clerk,* an arrogant, pompous judicial clerk writing about his boss and the litigants that come before the court. And doing so in scathing terms.

But is it real? Or is s/he merely a humorist of some type?

He wouldn’t be the first person to use an Article III pseudonym, of course, as Article III Groupie preceded him by many years, with a delicious wit at Underneath their Robes. She described herself as “a federal judicial starf**ker.” She had style. And A3G wasn’t anything close to arrogant as she ran her stories on judicial “divas and hotties.” When A3G finally revealed herself six years ago this week, she was actually David Lat. He quickly resigned his post as Assistant United States Attorney and went on to blogging greatness at Above the Law.

(For the non-lawyers, Article III refers to the third article of the Constitution, which establishes the judiciary. Rick Santorum thinks it’s the least important part of government. Why? Because it comes third:

“Article I is Congress, Article II is the president and Article III is the courts. If it was the most important, they wouldn’t have put it third.”

OK, I digressed, but you gotta admit that was worth it, right?)

Back to Article III Clerk. His Twitter feeds describes him thusly:

Current law clerk for a Senior U.S. District Judge on the East Coast. He’s really fucking old, so I roll the dice of justice on my own.

So right out of the box, before knowing nothing else about him, we know something is afoot. Is it humor, or a twenty-something speaking the truth and playing with matches under the cover of anonymity? When we peek inside his feed that just started on January 11th, we see some stuff that could constitute decent criticism and wit:

NOTE TO PLAINTIFF’S LAWYERS: If you ignore Twombly and Iqbal in the Opp to a MTD, you should be disbarred. They happened. Deal with it.

If you put “Esquire” after your name at the end of your motion, I will rule against you. Every. Time.

The opposition you filed was goddamn unreadable. You think I want 10 more typo-ridden pages about what light I should view evidence in?

Not bad. Could be worth repeating if you like that stuff.

But….and you knew there was going to be a “but” didn’t you? Let’s check out a few other tweets (or twits) that seem to dance up to the line —  if not over that line if the feed is not a parody or satire, and could place the author’s license at risk:

Judge called from home today to “check in.” I got it under control you senile fuck. Go back to napping underneath 20 blankets.

Thing is, if I don’t grant this MSJ, this thing might actually go to trial. Which means I have to interact with Judge in person. Paaassssss.

Clerk of court is either on smack or she is retarded. 2 days since I gave her ruling. Release my brilliance to the people. Let them weep.

@lawschoollawlz I’m a de facto Art. III judge at age 27 & haven’t talked to “boss” in 3 days. What in the living fuck are you talking about?

I really, really hope the Judge doesn’t die while I’m clerking.

Not sure what to think. Would this person really want his identify disclosed? Remember the Golden Rule of the digital age: Don’t type anything you’re afraid to see on the front page of the paper. What are the ramifications, if he speaks the truth? If truthful, he’s revealed that he works for a senior federal judge on the east coast who may not be well, that he is 27, and the court clerk is female. That’s a lot of biographical data to narrow down the possibilities. Also, that he’s incredibly arrogant for a young pup that may never have stood in the well himself.

Hopefully, it’s just an attempt at humor.

*Update 1/15/12 – The Twitter feed of @ArticleIIIClerk has gone dead. Which leads me to guess it might have been real, and not a parody. Also, that the clerk woke up and realized he was making a big mistake. Just my guess. Anyone with real info, feel free to let me know in the comments or via email.