[The following column originally appeared in print in November 2008. I am republishing it as part of my continuing effort to maintain an archive of my published columns. Important note: I have not updated this since its original publication. While most of the sites remain as described, some may have changed. All information was current as of the date of original publication.]

When it comes to social media, I tend to be an evangelist. But even I could not grasp why so many lawyers were all atwitter over Twitter. What value could there be in a microblogging tool that limits each post to 140 characters?

So I strapped on some wings and gave it a try. In no time at all, Twitter turned me into a songbird ready to sing its praises. For all those who ask, “Why Twitter?” I present my Tweet 16 – 16 ways lawyers can use Twitter to enhance their practices and their profiles.

First, a few words about how it works. After you sign up and create a user name, you can post short messages, called “tweets,” of no more than 140 characters. These messages appear on Twitter’s Web site and can also be tracked through mobile phones and other applications.

Once you are a member, you can choose to follow other members’ messages. When you come across someone you know or find interesting, click the “follow” button to add their messages to your feed. (Find mine at http://twitter.com/bobambrogi.) Others can do the same to receive your messages. If you prefer to be less public, you can limit the visibility of your messages to people you approve.

It is so simple in concept, yet surprisingly versatile in potential uses. Here are 16 that stand out for me.

1. Expand your network. What with blogging, writing, speaking and various bar committees, I consider myself pretty well networked. So I was surprised upon joining Twitter at how many new contacts I made, how quickly I made them, and their potential value to me as a professional.

2. Discover new blogs. Everyone on Twitter has a profile page on which they can link to their Web site or blog. As interesting tweets catch my attention, I sometimes click through to find equally interesting – and previously unknown to me – blogs.

3. Mold your image. Those who post regularly to Twitter provide others a glimpse of their daily lives. That glimpse can help shape your public image. Do your posts paint you as a high-powered professional – now writing an appellate brief, now preparing for a deposition – or as a trivia-obsessed slacker – now breaking for lunch, now off for drinks? By thinking before you post, you can shape how others see you.

4. Distribute your news. Lawyers and law firms already use Twitter as a vehicle to distribute news and press releases. Even though Twitter limits posts to 140 characters, posts can include Web links. Thus, post the headline or a brief description together with the link to the full item.

5. Drive traffic. When you post an interesting item to your blog, mention it on Twitter with a link to the full post. Various tools let you do this automatically, updating your Twitter feed whenever you post to your blog. (I use Twitterfeed for this.)

6. Simulate the water cooler. For solo lawyers and self-employed consultants, Twitter is a virtual office water cooler. Throughout the day, lawyers on Twitter comment on the news, throw out questions and share articles and items of interest. You can reply directly to others, either publicly or privately.

7. Message your colleagues. You can send a direct message to anyone on Twitter, visible only to the recipient. This is a convenient way, much like instant messaging, to send a colleague a quick question or comment.

8. Monitor the buzz. What are hot topics among lawyers in your practice area? What are people saying about your client or its product? On Twitter, you can select the people whose posts you wish to follow. You can also search all Twitter posts, save the search and get updates via RSS. (Go to http://search.twitter.com.)

9. Get noticed by news media. News reporters are turning to Twitter to find sources and leads. Additionally, Twitter provides opportunities for professionals to connect and establish relationships with reporters.

10. Keep up with your local court. Courts in Philadelphia recently launched a Twitter feed of news and announcements. (Find it at http://twitter.com/PhilaCourts.) Others may well follow suit.

11. Track activity at a conference. Using what Twitter calls “hashtags,” you can tag posts to connect them with other posts. One way this is useful is at a conference, enabling attendees to find each others’ posts. The tag is marked using the pound symbol and placed directly within the post. For example, #legaltech might be used by attendees at the Legal Tech conference in New York. A site devoted to monitoring hashtags is at http://hashtags.org.

12. Follow the government. The White House, federal agencies and members of Congress are among the many sources within the U.S. government that use Twitter to distribute news and announcements. A list of federal government Twitter feeds is at Twitter Fan Wiki.

13. Promote an event or seminar. A recent article in The Wall Street Journal told how Andrew Flusche, an attorney in Fredericksburg, Va., used Twitter to promote a webinar he was holding on trademark registration. The session attracted 15 attendees, more than twice the number he drew for a subsequent seminar he didn’t promote on the service.

14. Get more mileage. Why publish to just one source when you can as easily publish to many and reach that many more readers? When I post an item to my blog, it shows up in my Twitter feed. When I post an item to Twitter, it shows up on my Facebook and Plaxo profiles. In social networking, there is power in ubiquity.

15. Find clients. When a California blogger was threatened with a lawsuit over comments he made online, he turned to Twitter to search for a lawyer. Through Twitter, you may find new clients and they may find you.

16. Locate experts. Either by posting a message to Twitter or by using its search function, you may be able to find experts on a particular topic. If you do, use Twitter’s direct message feature to make the initial contact.

There you have my Tweet 16. But I hasten to add something else lawyers can do on Twitter: Get in trouble. For example, a Seattle law firm recently generated controversy when its outside public-relations consultant posted a message to Twitter seeking putative plaintiffs for a possible class action suit.

Before you post to Twitter, consider the consequences. A casual tool such as this makes it easy to unwittingly create an attorney-client relationship or overstep an ethical rule. Even with only 140 characters, you can easily get yourself in hot water.

Copyright 2008 Robert J. Ambrogi

Photo of Bob Ambrogi Bob Ambrogi

Bob is a lawyer, veteran legal journalist, and award-winning blogger and podcaster. In 2011, he was named to the inaugural Fastcase 50, honoring “the law’s smartest, most courageous innovators, techies, visionaries and leaders.” Earlier in his career, he was editor-in-chief of several legal publications, including The National Law Journal, and editorial director of ALM’s Litigation Services Division.