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Twitter Moot Court Convenes Tomorrow.

On Tuesday, February 21st, 2012 at 10am PST (1pm EST) West Coast Environmental Law will be hosting the first ever Twitter Moot Court. The event takes the tried-and-true law school practice of mooting and flips it on its head by conducting it via social media. It’s an exciting innovation that will help interested parties explore how traditional legal arguments are translated into modern technology environments.

Presenting a legal argument in “tweets” that consist of no more than 140 characters is certainly going to be a challenge. However, Skunkworks is proud to be sponsoring two students, Matthew Nefstead and Jenn Cameron, from the Faculty of Law at the University of Victoria (alma mater to two of us here at Skunkworks).

In total, 5 Canadian law schools have entered teams into what promises to be a fascinating experiment in legal academics. The other schools participating include Dalhousie University, University of Ottawa, UBC, and The Osgoode School of Law. Each tweeting team has its own page here. The judging panel is a an interesting mashup of talent itself, and includes University of Calgary law professor Kathleen Mahoney, lawyer-turned-novelist William Deverell and legal social media wunderkind Omar Ha-Redeye.

The case that the tweeters plan on mooting is the landmark environmental decision West Moberly First Nations v. British Columbia – a precedent-setting decision that confirmed the government of British Columbia has an obligation to protect First Nation treaty rights from incremental intrusions into the habitats of at-risk-species.

In the actual case, the BC Supreme Court found that the BC government had not sufficiently consulted West Moberly First Nations on how to adequately protect the Burnt Pine Caribou Herd prior to issuing mining permits to First Coal Corporation. It was decided that Crown also failed to put in place an active plan to accommodate for the protection and rehabilitation of the Caribou Herd. As a result, the BC Court of Appeal suspended First Coal Corporation’s mining permits.

It’s important to note, that you don’t need to be a member of the Twitter community to watch the latest crop of digitally savvy law students make social media and legal history. You can follow along through the “twitter feed” embedded at http://wcel.org/live-twitter-moot-feed.

Best of luck to all participants!




The Missing Link(s): Practice Group Social Media for Law Firms

[This article was originally published on www.SLAW.ca in September, 2011]

We have been watching the ascent of social media in legal marketing for a few years now. Law blogs, once considered a frivolity suitable only for the technogeek outliers at the fringe of the law firm, are now recognized as legitimate business development vehicles at many, if not most, firms. Likewise, other social media channels including Linkedin, Twitter, YouTube and to some extent Facebook, have all been moving (at varying paces) along a recognizable continuum inside the law firm environment that looks a bit like this:

Derision >> skepticism >> grudging curiosity >> cautious adoption >> widespread use

As social media adoption continues to grow amongst lawyers and law firms, a few lessons have emerged. Social media is disruptive in the sense that it does not automatically reward firm size or lawyer seniority.  Smaller, more agile firms and young lawyers can and regularly do play a much more prominent role in legal social media than their larger firm and senior lawyer counterparts. And interestingly, individuals regularly fare better in social media than their own firms do, even in circumstances where the firms are national in scope and have the head start of a multimillion-dollar organization, professional marketing department and a recognizable brand behind them.

Mid-size and large firms in particular seem to struggle when it comes to finding their “voice” with social media, with twitter being the platform where this weakness is most noticeable. To date, most of the larger firm twitter accounts tend to stick largely to a predictable regurgitation of their own firm news releases, new partner announcements and award or ranking achievements. However, when one combines the blandness of this approach with the fact that larger firms are of necessity speaking to a widely disparate group of clients and audiences (the tech startup, the mining giant, the municipal government client and the major bank all have very different information needs) you are a left with a situation where larger firms are using their social media presence to push out a series of almost exclusively self-laudatory items across a scattershot array of industries and topics. The vast majority of these updates are guaranteed to be of little or no relevance to most of the clients.  Little wonder then, that social media users typically opt for the livelier and more useful flow of information to be found in a boutique firm or individual lawyer’s social media feed.  That individual lawyer feed probably focuses primarily around a discrete legal subject area, includes both his or her own content as well as links to other news items relevant to that area from multiple credible sources, and throws in some commentary and personal anecdotes that let the reader know a little bit more about the person behind the post as well.

The good news for firms struggling with this dilemma is that there is an obvious remedy at hand.  We’ve already seen this game play out in the context of blogging. Specific wins out over general. The client doesn’t care THAT much about you. They care mostly about themselves, and the legal issues that pertain to them.  Except in boutique firms organized around a single subject area, the “firm blog” approach has largely withered away in favour of niche subject area blogs that cater explicitly to the needs of a specific audience.  And just as happened with blogging, law firms need to begin adopting a practice and industry group approach to their other social media efforts.  National firms don’t need a twitter account – they need twenty, or thirty.  That way, as a client, I can tap into the one or two that are focused on my industry and my issues, and choose signal instead of noise.  I can get a sense for the specific lawyers who work in my interest area. And I can ignore the completely irrelevant news from the 90% of your firm that has nothing to do with or for me and therefore is of no interest to me. (Harsh but true.)

From the firm side, this approach may seem daunting but it needn’t be.  You already have a practice and/or industry group structure in place.  You need to use it.  Start with the handful of practices that are already self-sufficient in putting out newsletters, e-alerts or a blog and add social media tools to their arsenal.  Divvy up responsibility, and take advantage of existing social media savvy within your teams.  Let individual lawyers “sign” their tweets or updates by adding their initials to the end of their posts (and include a legend in the twitter or social media bio section that connects those initials to full author names).  And then let them use social media the same way that successful boutiques and individual lawyers already do – by contributing substantive content on a discrete subject area, linking to relevant industry news from credible sources, and showing a human side to the firm and its lawyers.

Social media has moved past the “fad” stage – it’s here to stay.  That being the case, it’s time more firms start putting it to work – the kind of real, specific, in-the-trenches work that happens every day at the practice group level.




Linking In A Little Deeper

[This article was originally published on www.SLAW.ca in June, 2011]

Linkedin is the most common starting point for most lawyers when it comes to social media.  In recognition of that, I want to showcase a few features of Linkedin that you may not currently be using.

Status Updates

The status update box has been around for some time now but it is relatively underutilized in the legal community.  You can find the status update box either beside or directly underneath your photo on your linkedin home page or your “edit my profile” page.  It is a simple white text box that you can update as frequently as desired with a small snippet of information that you think the people in your network might be interested in.  That could be a link to an article or blog post you’ve written, news of an upcoming seminar you will be presenting at or attending, or just drawing attention to a noteworthy article or decision in your client industry or practice area.  Whenever you update your status, the homepage of everyone in your network gets alerted, which makes it an effective tool for keeping yourself on the radar of those in your network.

Company Pages

Most of us think of Linkedin as being built around individuals, but more recently Linkedin has wisely let businesses in on the action by creating “company pages” – essentially a Linkedin profile for the company.   But more than just a single page, the company profile can in fact serve more like a corporate microsite.  The “home page” of a Linkedin company profile is relatively fixed in terms of content and layout – you can include a brief corporate overview, as well as feeds of company blog and twitter accounts.  Linkedin also automatically includes summaries of some of the individual linkedin bios of your staff on this page.

Beyond that corporate home page, however, you can also create a “products/services” section that is a real hidden gem that very few law firms are currently using. You can create service pages for each practice area of your firm that includes:

  • a picture or photograph;
  • a service description;
  • a bulleted list of key benefits or people;
  • practice-specific contact information;
  • a practice-specific web-link (e.g. a practice area blog or firm website section);
  • an embedded YouTube video; and
  • a disclaimer of your choosing.

Additionally, on your services index page you can also include up to three large banner ad-style images that themselves can link directly out to whatever you like.  This is ideally suited to highlighting key areas of focus for your firm.  Linkedin also has built-in analytics for these company pages so that page administrators can monitor traffic to these pages.

See an example of a law firm LinkedIn services section here.  (Full disclosure: this firm is a client).  Interested in creating a company page for your firm? This is a good place to start.

Follow Company

A corollary of the fact that you can now create company pages on Linkedin is that you can now choose to follow (monitor) the activities of other companies there as well.  This is similar to adding a person to your linkedin network, except that unlike the case with people, you do not require a company’s consent in order to follow their company linkedin activity.   Start looking for companies you already interact with regularly (i.e. clients, vendors, competitors, etc.) by simply using the search box in the top right hand corner of the top navigation bar, and using the dropdown filter to select “companies”) and typing in the company name.  Once you’ve found a company of interest, simply hit the “Follow Company” button, near the top right hand corner of the Company Page, and any updates they make will automatically appear on your Linkedin homepage that shows all recent activity from people and companies in your network.


InMaps is a nice feature for visual learners that analyses your Linkedin network and creates a personalized visual representation (I’ve attached mine below as an example) of the people in your network and clusters them into as many as eight different groups based on the connections between them, each denoted by a different color.  It’s then up to you to identify what each of those clusters represent, and add your own descriptions to the legend in the bottom left corner. It’s an interesting exercise – in my case I found the strength of my law firm alumni network (Faskens) stronger than expected more than a decade on after leaving the firm.  I also noted an actionable insight in the relative absence of Linkedin connections in my network to the broader marketing and advertising industry – my current ties are much stronger to my client industry (law) than to the advertising and marketing world.

You can find out more and create your own InMap here:  http://inmaps.linkedinlabs.com/faq

There are a variety of other recent developments on the LinkedIn front that also warrant a further look, including LinkedIn Signal and the Legal Updates application.

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