The risks and rewards of legal tweeting

In the first of our blogs, partner Chris Setford discusses why he believes Twitter is a force for good in the legal profession – if bosses can just bring themselves to relinquish control. You could be forgiven for thinking that joining Twitter is like signing your own death warrant, judging by the legal controversy surrounding it in recent weeks. We’ve seen a barrister fined, a couple refused entry to the US and an appeal taken the High Court, all because of what has been said, in 140 characters or less, on the social networking site. With many of our own solicitors wandering into this apparent minefield, should we at Setfords HQ be worried that we’re about to see our valued staff sacked, locked up or deported? We could make sure this doesn’t happen by introducing draconian regulations to keep a tight control on what our solicitors tweet.  Don’t do anything without telling us first and, whatever you do, never talk to strangers. But then I seem to remember reading this week that Sky News adopted an approach not a million miles away from this and it didn’t play out too well for them. No, if you run a legal firm, or any other business for that matter, micromanaging your staff’ Twitter activity negates the point of them being on there. But more importantly, we don’t need to anyway. Our solicitors chat to people online, offer advice, make new contacts and share content. We let them get on with it because they’re professionals. Countless other firms are out there doing the same. And it’ a great thing. Used by real, honest people, speaking in jargon-free language, Twitter is helping to demystify the legal profession, taking what was once often seen as stuffy and aloof and making it accessible and approachable. Of course, as solicitors we do need to accept that our legal and ethical obligations mean certain limitations are imposed by the very nature of our work. We are in a position of responsibility and need to ensure the way we communicate affirms our clients’ trust in us as we deal with their important and often sensitive issues. There is a guide to the use of social media by legal practitioners on The Law Society website, which you can access here. But useful as guidelines are, I believe employers can usually trust staff to do the right thing. Equally, common sense should be enough to keep any employee out of trouble when using social media, whether a solicitor or otherwise. Avoid saying things that bring you, your company or your profession into disrepute. Don’t brag about being hung over at work. Don’t call in sick then post photos of yourself out on the lash the night before. And if you’re daft enough to do any of this, accept that things will probably end badly. Do we really need to make it any more complicated than that? On our @setfordslegal Twitter page you’ll find a list of our tweeting solicitors. You can also find us on Facebook.