IT is a phenomenon that divides families, friends and professions. You can become totally obsessed by it – or just dismiss it as a modern fad that will soon be replaced by something else.
Yet many lawyers who are passionate about Twitter insist it has gone far beyond a passing trend – and become a genuine business tool for the profession.
Firms that continue to have a ‘stubborn streak’ and refuse to embrace Twitter risk losing out on business and being left far behind, according to regular users of the social media conversation site.
Michelle Hynes McIlroy says she was shocked to see how few delegates at the Law Society’s conference on alternative business structures earlier this year raised a hand to say they used Twitter – although the Law Society itself was an early adopter.
Ms Hynes McIlroy, marketing manager at http://www.roadtrafficlaw.com, who posts tweets as @roadtrafficlaw and @legaleaglemhm, says lawyers who use Twitter properly are definitely picking up business.
Since her company joined Twitter in September 2009, she says: “We have listened to conversations by potential clients and new clients, instructed counsel and pushed traffic to our website which has increased by over 200 per cent in the last year.
“When I asked the audience at the conference how many people used Twitter, I was shocked to see only a few hands raised. If Scottish lawyers are not listening to all these ‘I need a lawyer’ tweets, who is?”
Ms Hynes McIlroy, who has established a new twitter account called @legaleaglettes within the last few weeks, says is not just a question of using Twitter for the sake of it – but making sure you use it strategically.
“Twitter is a unique tool with tweets being directed out into the virtual world but the nature of the beast itself is that tweets are often swept along and missed by the very person they are aimed at. Using twitter strategically by sending tweets out and also engaging with clients is one of the keys for both @legaleaglemhm and @roadtrafficlaw.
“The 1,980 people whom I follow on Twitter are potential clients and the 860 following me are also potential clients. There are 27.3 million tweets every day; some are about the law and legal issues. Boundaries and jurisdictions do not exist in the virtual world; the sharing of information between inhabitants occurs all day every day.”
The Law Society of Scotland is belying its stereotypical image of dusty Drumsheugh Gardens tradition by using Twitter as an important communications channel (@lawscot), increasing traffic to its website and the Journal Online and encouraging engagement from members.
Gillian Meighan, the Society’s head of corporate communications, explains: “We went through a little of the ‘should we shouldn’t we’ debate before realising you just have to jump in and do it. We are pleased we did as it has linked us up to many contacts and become an important communication channel within a year.”
Neil Stevenson, the Society’s Director of Representation and Professional Support, who tweets as @StevensonLaw, says: “We have started to pick up bookings for courses through Twitter and we are definitely reaching more younger people who would not have communicated with the Society normally. It is increasingly showing up as an extremely useful business tool.”
Mr Stevenson says there is an increasing realisation of the value of Twitter across the legal profession, but admits there is still a degree of scepticism.
“I’ve discovered at least 20 major firms and numerous smaller ones ‘tweeting’, but many of us from the legal world are still finding our feet,” he adds.
“The enthusiasm for social media still tends to come from individuals, rather than the overall business and many are still sceptical. I suspect even some of my colleagues wonder why on earth I would chose to use my time doing this, but the response is that I’ve made contacts and had conversations I would have just never had through other medium.”
Brian Inkster’s company Inksters was the first legal firm in Scotland to use Twitter and he now uses five different applications, including one on crofting law (@CroftingLaw), family law (@ScotsFamilyLaw)and others on property and the firm’s overall business – as well as his own, more personal Twitter feed.
He says: “I have made many good friends on Twitter over the past year and am meeting and connecting with new ones on a regular basis.
“Twitter is great for making connections with like-minded people and exchanging ideas and information. Many of these connections are other lawyers or people involved in the world of law. This has lead to a lot of profile-raising opportunities, all of which could indirectly result in potential clients finding me and my firm.
“It has also resulted in the direct referral of clients to me and my firm by people I tweet with. This doesn’t happen overnight but takes time to develop once you have built up the connections and trust necessary. I have likewise made referrals to other tweeting lawyers in areas of the law or jurisdictions that my firm does not operate in.”
Michelle Hynes McIlroy is building her future around Twitter. She hopes @legaleaglettes will help law students, trainees and new lawyers to connect, share information and blog about where the profession is going. She insists lawyers have to stop thinking and start doing — and says there are two possible paths: “The first one is being adopted already and that is to simply ignore it and in my opinion rather appears to be like an ostrich burying its head in the sand. Or we can be brave and reach out our hand to the virtual world, learn its language and talk, engage and do business with its inhabitants.
“To tweet or not to tweet is still a question many firms spend so much time contemplating.
“In that few seconds it takes to tweet ‘I need a lawyer’ I know that I will be listening, engaging and responding – and so will our competitors.”