Before proceeding, a quick primer on Twitter terminology might be helpful. First, a “handle” is how people find or identify you on Twitter. Your handle begins with the “@” symbol and is followed by the name or title you’ve chosen for your identifier. A “tweet” is an individual message of no more than 140 characters, posted by a Twitter user. To “retweet” means to forward or repost someone else’s tweet. And a “hashtag” is a subject-matter identifier that is included in a tweet. Every hashtag is comprised of two parts: the hash (#) followed by a word or phrase (the tag). If the tag is a phrase, then the words are not separated—hence, #AppellateTwitter.
Hashtags function as user-generated card catalogs. Users can enter a hashtag into Twitter’s search bar, and Twitter will produce a list of all the tweets using that hashtag. If a user wants to participate in a conversation about a topic, the user can include the appropriate hashtag in a tweet, and the tweet will appear to anyone searching for that hashtag.
Entrepreneurial Twitter users craft new hashtags of their own devising. The #AppellateTwitter hashtag was created in the summer of 2016 by Raffi Melkonian (@RMFifthCircuit), an appellate lawyer in Houston, in reference to a group of appellate lawyers who had met each other through Twitter and were meeting in person for the first time. Since then, #AppellateTwitter has become a network of hundreds of lawyers and judges nationwide. They even have their own coffee mug.
“Nerding Out” in a Digital Law-Review Office
#AppellateTwitter has become an increasingly popular (and sometimes authoritative—see here at footnote 26) hashtag for appellate lawyers to discuss everything from Supreme Court nominations to the proper location of a signature block in a brief.
A quick perusal of tweets on #AppellateTwitter reveals that this legal community acts as a kind of digital law-review office—a place where self-professed legal nerds comment on grammar and usage, Bluebook citation form for obscure sources, the latest circuit splits and appellate court appointments, and whether v. should be pronounced like versus, against, vee, or possibly and during oral argument (no joke—see here).
Crowdsourcing Research Issues
“I know there’s a case out there that says [blank].”
If you didn’t experience sudden-onset nausea just now, you’ve been a partner for too long. This oft-used line is the bane of a litigation associate’s life. It portends hours of research in an effort to prove a positive, i.e., that there is indeed a case that says [blank]. And those initial hours are frequently followed by several more hours of research to prove a negative, i.e., that in fact there is no case that says [blank] but that you’ve found the next best thing. In the end, there’s a stack of billable hours that represents nothing more than a dead end, an anxious associate, a frustrated partner, and a client who doesn’t want to pay.
Here’s where Twitter can help. Many legal tweeters have praised the #AppellateTwitter community for providing a quick citation to the right case or valuable insight into local court practice or custom. Next time you have a procedural question or can’t remember what case it is that says [blank], consider flipping the question (without revealing client information) to the hive mind of #AppellateTwitter. It might save you some time and your client some money.
Elevating Your Profile and Client Development
Twitter can also provide a platform for elevating your public profile and for developing business.
Jason Steed (@5thCirAppeals), an appellate lawyer in Dallas, credits his Twitter usage for new client relationships and opportunities to provide legal commentary to national news outlets like CNN and MSNBC. “First and foremost,” Steed said, “Twitter is a networking tool—a way to connect with people and get to know them. And it presents an opportunity to build your reputation as someone who knows stuff and as someone who others might want to work with.” Steed said that he’s developed “numerous professional relationships through Twitter” and has worked on “over a dozen cases” that have come to him either through relationships that originated on Twitter or from people who found him on Twitter.
What’s the secret to success? Steed suggested starting by choosing a professional handle and learning a few basic skills, including how to use hashtags and how to thread tweets.
After learning the ropes, Twitter users should “be generous and helpful,” according to Steed. “Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to people and to contribute to discussions,” he said. In addition, Steed recommended remaining professional while also putting your personality out there. “Potential colleagues and clients want to work with people they like. So sometimes a joke tweet that has nothing to do with legal work will attract more followers and do more for business development than that thread you posted about the intricacies of personal jurisdiction.” Steed’s biggest rule for tweeting as a professional? “Don’t be a jerk.”
According to Steed, there are a lot of “lurkers” on #AppellateTwitter—people who tune in to see what’s being said without ever saying anything themselves. “That’s perfectly okay,” said Steed. “Many judges are lurkers because they feel constrained in what they can say on social media.” (According to a jovial #AppellateTwitter rumor, Justice Kagan is a lurker on Twitter.) “But if you want to get the most out of Twitter as a networking tool, tweet regularly so that people can get to know you. And be yourself.”
From “nerding out” about legal writing or the law to crowdsourcing research questions to elevating your profile and generating new business, #AppellateTwitter has a lot to offer lawyers and judges. Hopefully, the tips in this article will get you started or will help you improve your Twitter practice.
And, of course, no discussion of #AppellateTwitter would be complete without reference to tweeter laureate and Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett (@JusticeWillett). See here for Justice Willett’s informed commentary on Justice Neil Gorsuch and the Canadian judiciary.
Scott R. Larson (@scottlarson89) is a litigation attorney in Dallas, Texas, at the law firm of Bell Nunnally & Martin LLP.