Tight regulations and privacy concerns have limited how the legal industry engages online. But as the public continues to turn to social media for legal related information, lawyers, law firms, and even judges have started using these platforms more creatively.
As we’ve explored previously, there are plenty of ways that social media can be integrated into your overall outreach strategy. And with 271 million monthly active users, Twitter is an extremely effective platform for promoting an event, driving awareness around a campaign, or educating the public on court decisions and processes.
Although we’ve already looked at the different ways lawyers and law firms can excel on social, here are a few more examples of how the legal industry is finding success specifically in 140 characters.
Live Tweeting From the Courtroom
Court proceedings are typically limited to those individuals directly involved in the case as well as some media. But as social media adoption grows, more courts are embracing policies for its use in courtrooms.
Recently, Chief Justice Joseph Kennedy of the Nova Scotia Supreme Court spoke out regarding the media’s ability to live tweet from the courtroom. “I couldn’t get over how well it worked,” he explained in an interview. “I didn’t think it was going to be as accurate as it turned out to be. I have to say that I was very impressed.”
Even the attorney prosecuting the live-tweeted case, Darcy MacPherson, printed out a reporter’s tweets for use as reference notes throughout the trial. “I was on a break on the weekend and I went online … and it dawned on me at that moment: I have a great asset here. It’s something that I’ll be able to make use of,” he said.
Although tweets shouldn’t be used as a primary source of information, MacPherson said they served as another set of objective eyes, allowing him to catch things he and his co-counsel might have missed. Currently 36 states, as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, have policies covering the use of Twitter in the courtroom. Members of the media and legal system are encouraged to review those policies before tweeting case details.
When it became clear that Hurricane Sandy was going to hit the East Coast, courts in Sandy’s path used social media to provide real-time updates to their communities. These updates included court-closing information, as well as other specific details for jurors, attorneys, and litigants. While some courts used Facebook, the majority of that information was relayed to the public through Twitter.
If you were scheduled for jury duty tomorrow, you will be rescheduled to serve at a later date. #Sandy
— PhilaCourts (@PhilaCourts) October 28, 2012
According to the 2013 CCPIO New Media Survey, 14.3 percent of the 1,796 judges surveyed admitted to using Twitter — compared to only 11.3 percent using Facebook. That’s not to say that one platform is better than the other, but when it comes to delivering time-sensitive information, Twitter has a slight edge over Facebook. Of course, as Facebook Trends evolves, it’ll likely become a bigger player in the breaking-news space. The decline of traditional media coverage of the courts has also created an opportunity for these judiciary systems to review and re-engage their communications programs. Court News Ohio, for example, is a comprehensive, multi platform program that covers news about the Ohio judicial system for members of the legal community, as well as the general public. The program publishes daily news about court cases, judicial appointments and vacancies, rule amendments, activities in the judicial branch, and feature stories.
Another great example is the California Courts Twitter account. Created in 2009, the person (or persons) behind this account shares daily news related to happenings within the California Judicial Branch. Even better, the account has adopted a multimedia approach, regularly integrating photos and links to relevant resources.
Twitter Chats and Follower Engagement
Regardless of industry, interacting with your followers should be your primary objective when using social media. It’s not enough to just push information out and hope that it spreads. Establishing a Twitter account and only posting links to your blog content isn’t a very effective form of communication. Rather, create conversational tweets that inspire discussions, or take the extra step and host a Twitter chat like the chief justices of the District of Columbia’s courts did.
In an effort to create awareness for Law Day — a national day celebrating the role of law in our society — the DC Courts held a one-hour Q&A session on Twitter. Using the hashtag #AskTheCJs, Chief Judges Eric Washington of the D.C. Court of Appeals and Lee Satterfield of the D.C. Superior Court answered questions from reporters, attorneys, and residents on a variety of topics. The two even answered questions about a career in law from prospective students.
Even if you don’t want to launch a full-fledged Twitter chat, your account needs personality. It can be difficult to turn such a dry topic into something sexy, but fortunately you don’t have to. Instead, use what’s given to you to engage followers. For example, if you receive the same questions regarding jury duty, tap the resources available to you to come up with insightful, concise answers and share them in visually compelling ways — such as a quick Instagram video or short infographic.
The legal industry might have gotten off to a slow start, but social media use is definitely growing. Whether you’re a law firm looking to drive new business or a judiciary system hoping to educate the public there’s a use case for you, and Twitter is a fantastic place to start. Once you’ve mastered 140 characters, expanding your strategy to other platforms will be a breeze.
[Image credit: Maryland GovPics]
Jennifer Beese: Jennifer Beese has worked as a community manager and social media strategist. When she’s not writing, you can find her studying anatomy and physiology—she literally has a skeleton in her closet—or under the stars with her telescope.