The sky’s the limit for legal eagles on Twitter
Social media brings legal discussion to a much wider audience
Social media savvy: The Irish legal world seems to have taken to online life like barristers to a tribunal. Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire
Whether they are tweeters, blawgers or both, the Irish legal world seems to have taken to online life like barristers to a tribunal.
There are a myriad of legal blogs summarising, analysing and dissecting the latest judgments from Irish courts. The websites of many legal firms include blogs from staff members on current legal topics, while individual bloggers vent their professional opinions or take a more personal approach to their views.
And twitter accounts abound, from occasional tweeters who restrict their comments to legal matters or use the platform to promote their own blogs to frequent tweeters who like to tell us about their favourite TV soap and where they’ve eaten for lunch.
So what is in it for them? Is it just another opportunity to market? Or does it answer a need in the legal community to air views to a wider audience, share experiences and receive support from other lawyers and legal academics in what can sometimes be a lonely business?
Fiona de Londras, professor of law at Durham University, is unequivocal about the value of tweeting and blogging. A founder member of humanrights.ie, a group academic blog on human rights issues in Ireland, she says the blog has created a community of academics that has expanded to engage wider society. Non-governmental organisations, civil society and government actors have and do engage through guest blogs, she says, and people from around the world read, comment and reblog or link to the articles.
Tweeting as @fdelond, de Londras says the principle advantage of this medium is that it helps her stay up to date in the field. It also helps build connections with people working on similar issues around the world.
“And it’s a way I can still contribute to debates in Ireland as well as in the UK, even though I am now institutionally located in the UK,” she says.
It has definitely raised her profile and has given her the ability to connect with policymakers and politicians and to bring research to them.
“I can engage with a Minister, or a TD or a Senator so easily through twitter and connect them into my research in a way that was previously almost impossible for academics to do,” she says. But she adds “you have to be quite good in figuring out how to boil a message down”.
She’s also met people on twitter and ended up with a collaboration of some kind, “a paper or a conference or intellectual engagement that’s really valuable”.
She has almost 3,400 followers and on average, tweets a few times a day, but doesn’t see it as eating into her time.
“For me it’s just an extension of the way I like to work . . . very few academics have a nine to five life, it’s not that kind of job, so most people are connected at different times of the day,” she says.
“If I’m too busy I just don’t look at it.”
Limerick solicitor Rossa McMahon blogs on clatterofthelaw.wordpress.com and confesses to being on twitter “almost” since it began. At the time he was working in Dublin and didn’t make much use of it, but once he moved home to Newcastle West he’s found it very beneficial. Without colleagues to discuss issues with, it has become a means to connect, and he currently has almost 2,700 followers.
“I used to work in Dublin in a big firm where I had a lot of colleagues and now I’m in a much smaller situation and I find it quite a good way of keeping in touch with other people,” he says.
“Sometimes you know someone through it and then privately bounce ideas off them or see what they think about particular things.”
A reasonable number of solicitors and barristers in Ireland are on twitter now, Mc Mahon says, and discussions have broken out on issues including legal indemnity and regulation.
“Interesting points have been made and I enjoy that element of it,” he says. He spends 20 seconds “here and there” in his day on twitter, including while waiting outside court for a case to come up.
He describes his blogging as “a bit unusual” and “not focused”. He doesn’t see it as a marketing opportunity, though he knows current advice to lawyers is that they should use it as such. He just enjoys writing about things that interest him.
“Sometimes you get feedback or a response or more discussion and sometimes you don’t,” he says.
“From a marketing point of view, I couldn’t necessarily say that I gain anything specific, although I have gotten bits and pieces of work out of it.”
Law professor at Trinity College Dublin Eoin O’Dell has written about law, education and policy on cearta.ie since 2006. His twitter presence is @cearta and he also has a more personal twitter account.
“I consider that it is a very important part of my academic work to make my research and arguments available and to engage in discussion and debate online is just another means of disseminating research and engaging in discussion,” he says.
His blog posts tend to be “considered discussions” of 500 or 600 words in length while he uses the 140 character demand of twitter to share interesting items with his more than 2,200 followers and respond to their comments. In general, commenting on blogs has decreased with the rise of twitter, he says. If people are interested in his blog post, “there will be a flurry of tweets about it pretty soon after it goes up”.
“People just like the ability to go back and forth in real time,” O’Dell says.
But it’s an unpredictable medium with no way of knowing what will provoke a response and what will not. O’Dell sees that as part of its charm. He also tries to draw a line between his public and private life by having a separate account for more personal tweets.
“I’m not sure an American lawyer interested in my copyright stuff is going to be interested in the fact I like Munster and Man United, whereas a friend of mine in Dublin or in Kerry might be interested in the latter and not the former,” he says.
Overall, his experience has been positive and he would recommend it to others in the legal world. “I think it’s a good thing and I think it is increasing the direction in which we are going,” he says.
Social media savvy
Blawgers and tweeters
Prof Fiona de Londras, Durham Law School, @fdelond, blogs at humanrights.ie
Eoin O’Dell, Trinity College Dublin law school, @cearta, blogs at cearta.ie
Rossa McMahon, Solicitor, @rossamcmahon, blogs at clatterofthelaw.wordpress.com
Paul MacMahon, Harvard Law School, @extemporeblog , blogs on the Supreme Court of Ireland at extempore.ie
Darius Whelan, UCC Law Department, @dariuswirl , blogs at Irishlawblog.blogspot.com
TJ McIntyre, Lecturer in law, UCD, @tjmcintyre, blogs at tjmcintyre.com
Daithi MacSithigh, Lecturer in Digital Media Law, University of Edinburgh, @macsithigh, blogs at Lexferenda. com
Mary Rogan, Lecturer in Socio-Legal Studies at Dublin Institute of Technology, @maryrogan, blogs at maryrogan.wordpress.com
Flor McCarthy, Solicitor, @FlorMcCarthy, blogs at mccarthy.ie/blog
Mark Tottenham, barrister, @staredechib, edits staredecisishibernia.com
Fergal Crehan, barrister, @fergal, fergalcrehan.com
Simon McGarr, Solicitor, @Tupp_Ed, blogs at http://www.tuppenceworth.ie/blog
Colm O’Dwyer, barrister @colmfod
Fergus Ryan, Lecturer in Law, DIT @ferguswryan
Mairead Enright, Lecturer, Kent Law School @maireeadenright and @pubprivlaw
Donnacha O’Connell, Professor of Law, NUIG, @donnchanuig
Rory O’Connell, Professor of Law, University of Ulster, @rjoconnell
Claire Murray, Lecturer in Law, UCC, @drclaire_m
John O’Dowd, Lecturer in Law, UCD, @odowdt
Eoin Daly, Lecturer in Law, UCD, @eoinmauricedaly
Conor O’Mahony, Lecturer in Law, UCC, @ConorUCCLaw
Ronan Lupton, barrister, @ronanlupton
Colin Scott, Dean of Law, UCD, @ColizScott