American Bar Association / ABA, Conferences / Symposia, Small Law Firms, Social Networking Websites, Technology, Twittering

Small Firms, Big Lawyers: Twitter and Business Cards at the ABA TechShow

Ed. note: This is the latest installment of Small Firms, Big Lawyers, one of Above the Law’s new columns for small-firm lawyers.

When 1,500 lawyers gathered at this week’s ABA TechShow in Chicago, an interesting thing happened:

The business card died.

When these lawyers weren’t listening to the dozens of cutting-edge seminars or browsing the exhibitors’ booths, they were making new friends and new professional connections. But instead of exchanging business cards, many of the attendees were trading Twitter handles — their online identities that begin with the @ symbol. (I’m @jayshep.) Massachusetts lawyer Gabriel Cheong (@gabrielcheong) told me that by the end of the conference, he had collected exactly zero business cards. (I immediately gave him one of mine. #irony) Instead of accumulating two-by-three-and-a-half-inch scraps of cardstock, he typed their Twitter names directly into his iPhone. (And I doubt anyone actually said, “Uh, I’m not on the Twitter.”) Molly McDonough (@Molly_McDonough), online editor at the ABA Journal, tweeted at the end of the conference: “For first time, I didn’t collect any biz cards at #abatechshow. Just made note of names and followed on Twitter.” Others retweeted (quoted) her tweet with approval.

So does this mean it’s time for small-firm lawyers to learn how to tweet?

Absolutely. We all know that lawyers tend to be conservative when it comes to trying new things. Social media’s no exception. As reported before, only about a third of small-firm lawyers use social media, according to Chicago’s Total Attorneys. And lawyers were similarly reluctant about adopting email and websites in the 1990s (and probably telephones in the 1890s). But now everyone uses email and websites (and phones), and it’s hard to remember when we didn’t. The same will be true for Twitter, especially since there are already 200 million users.

“But what would I use it for?” is the common lawyerly question. “Making connections with people and sharing information” is the answer, which sounds like a job description for lawyers.

Take a look at how the lawyers at TechShow used Twitter while at the conference. You can search for the hashtag #abatechshow and it will show you all the recent tweets with that reference. Throughout the conference, many attendees live-tweeted the panel discussions by posting 140-character-or-less snippets of the best things said. This allows people who missed a particular discussion to instantly learn what was said. (It also gives the speakers instant feedback.)

People also used Twitter to arrange impromptu get-togethers in and around the conference. If you wanted to know where people were hanging out, a quick Twitter search told you.

And most importantly, attendees began conversations with each other, many of which are likely to develop into relationships — as professional friendships, resources, or referral sources. Instead of ending up with a pile of business cards that end up in your desk drawer along with vague aspirations of “keeping in touch,” the Twitter connections directly start that process. I’ll be the first to admit that I suck at following up with people whose business cards I accumulate at events like these. But on Twitter, it’s easier to start the conversation.

This week in Chicago, I picked up about 50 new Twitter followers, and I began following about that many as well. And it’s not about keeping score; the point isn’t having a certain number of followers. It’s about making 50 new connections: new friends with whom I ate and drank and chatted, and new potential avenues for growing my business.

If you decide to get started on Twitter, what are you supposed to tweet? Twitter’s not about advertising your services, and it’s not about sales. It’s about letting people get to know you and what your interests and skills and personality traits are. It’s about sharing. When you read or watch or hear something that made an impact on you, you tweet out a message with a link to that something, and a few choice words saying why you liked it.

Don’t be overwhelmed by Twitter. It’s not very complicated. There are plenty of good books and other resources to learn from. Or just set up an account, start following some people (like me), and get a feel for how other people use it. Then, when you’re comfortable to start sharing thoughts of your own, jump in.

This was my first TechShow visit, and one of the things that surprised me was the demographic variety. I guess I expected it to be dominated by twentysomething Millennials. Instead, I think there were as many forty- and fiftysomethings. My point is, it has nothing to do with age, or even how tech savvy you are. It has to do with understanding that the practice of law in 2011 is different from the practice of law in 1994. New tools come along. I’m not saying you need to run out and try every shiny new thing. But Twitter has matured into an effective and useful tool for lawyers. Stubbornly refusing to learn about it makes no sense. Put aside your misgivings, step into 2011, and start connecting.

Then you’ll be #winning.

Ed. note: In addition to Jay (@JayShep), you can follow Above the Law (@ATLblog) and most of ATL’s contributors, including lead editors David Lat (@DavidLat) and Elie Mystal (@ElieNYC).

Jay runs Prefix, LLC, a firm that helps lawyers learn how to value and price legal services. Jay Shepherd also spent 13 years running the Boston management-side employment-law boutique Shepherd Law Group. He writes the ABA Blawg 100 honoree The Client Revolution, which focuses on reinventing the business of law, and Gruntled Employees, a workplace blog. Follow Jay on Twitter at @jayshep, or email him at

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