Lawyers love to hear themselves talk. But friends and relatives are often able to escape. In a world of people with the mobility not to hear about your latest escapades at a deposition, where can we inflict our opinions on the world at large?
Twitter. Glorious twitter. A place full of people naïve enough to hope your JD grants you a dash of expertise and a pinch of insight into the politics of the day. And, for the business-minded, a place to show, not tell, how you apply your analytical skills to real legal issues. If you’re so inclined, here are a few tips to help you on your way.
Stay in your lane
Anyone who’s practiced law for more than five minutes has come across that obnoxious person at the dinner party who wants to regale you with his legal theories without the burden of having ever tried a case or drafted a motion. We’ve all had these conversations—the sort where the sheer muscular strain not to roll your eyes could power Gwyneth Paltrow’s juicer for a month.
And yet so many lawyers find themselves on Twitter writing about things well outside their realm of expertise. When you’ve got seasoned criminal defense practitioners sounding off about NDAs and civil litigators opining on the elements of RICO, you’ve got a recipe for the rapid evaporation of credibility. If you’re interested in a topic and don’t know much about it yet, retweet someone smart, perhaps with a chin-stroking comment as the cherry on top. “Hmmmm, interesting.” Routinely recognizing where you can learn good information is almost as good as knowing it yourself.
Use primary sources
When the time comes to speak on a legal issue, lawyers are able to add something journalists often choose not to—access to the primary documents. If you’re going to write about what a recent 4th Amendment case means for the good faith exception, don’t just give your impressions—provide a link to the opinion and screenshots of the relevant language. Providing a chance to double-check your work increases engagement—people can read and react in real time. But more importantly, it provides credibility. On the internet, no one knows you’re a dog and a sneakily inaccurate paraphrase can be the mark of the scoundrel. As lawyers, we build trust by rarely requiring our audiences to take us at our word. Bring that to your online presence.
Consistent kindness builds your brand
Year after year, judges like the 5th Circuit’s Don Willett and the Georgia Court of Appeals’ Stephen Dillard are awarded for their outstanding online presence. But take a peek at their timelines, and you won’t find a lot of fiery hot takes about politics and law. Instead, you’ll find slight acrimony over the Oxford comma and such consistently popular practices as remembering people’s birthdays and making mild jokes about the Founders.
A few tricks for doing this in your own online interactions. First, if you’re going to be involved in an argument, steel man your opponent’s position. Address the most persuasive, well-researched version of it you can imagine. To an observer, it’s a lot more impressive to watch you grapple with tough, nuanced positions than to see you dunk on some poor sap with an anime character for an avatar.
Second, avoid ever making things personal. If someone disagrees with you, assume they’re doing it in good faith. And if they’re not, disengage. Nobody looks good tussling with crazy. Use your block button liberally, like Elton John with a bedazzler.
Andrew Fleischman (@ASFleischman) works to overturn unfair and wrongful convictions as an appellate attorney with Ross & Pines in Atlanta, Georgia. Much of his practice focuses on boiling down complicated issues of law into something that can be quickly understood, both orally and in writing. A big part of that is brevity. In seven years, he has never used all his time at an oral argument.