Thursday, March 25, 2010

When Social Media And Lawyers Become Relevant

Yesterday the State of Texas was planning to execute Hank Skinner. A bunch of criminal defense lawyers, including myself, blogged about the pending execution and the controversy over untested DNA.

Then we took to twitter.

All day, criminal and civil lawyers, non-lawyers, everyone, joined in on informing their respective followers about the execution. People were urged to call, e-mail, fax, and leave messages on Texas Governor Rick Perry's Facebook Page and ask him to stay the execution.

Then, the United States Supreme Court stepped in and stayed the execution.

It is a ridiculous notion to think that the Justices of the United States Supreme Court were surfing twitter yesterday and saw the outpouring of interest. It is less ridiculous to think that their young clerks and staff may have seen the posts.

But let's accept the argument that not a single person at the Supreme Court saw a single message about Hank Skinner's pending execution. Let's accept that the stay was granted without any knowledge of the online campaign.

The shame of it is that the social media marketers, some who are lawyers, largely stayed out of the postings. It wasn't part of their marketing campaign, it wasn't part of their "brand," and it wasn't self-promotion. It is these low-life marketers who only see social media as advertising, self-promotion, and a method to talk about "me."

Maybe they support the death penalty? Maybe they wanted Skinner dead? Nope. Listen, the people I speak of have never represented a client, entered a courtroom, or did so years ago and now use the moniker "lawyer" as a way to convince young lawyers that they have the answers to their desire for wealth - get a blog, twitter account, cool laptop and cell phone, and you will be the lawyer you want to be.

These are the people who are sticking their tongues out and whining "you guys didn't do anything to get the stay." The notion that social media exists for any other reason than shameless marketing and a medium to puff a resume for the unknowing, is beyond them. To them, social media is not a way to get a message out, unless the message is "hire me!"

That a message was spread of a possible injustice about to occur is so beyond the mindset of these social media types that all they can do is try to dissuade anyone who may think that social media can be used for a good, relevant purpose.

Yesterday the lawyers came together to pass along information to their colleagues and friends about a real legal issue that mattered.

The social media lawyer marketers, watching their world become one of relevance and not gamesmanship, took a pass.

Located in Miami, Florida, Brian Tannebaum practices Bar Admission and Discipline and Criminal Defense. He is the author of I Got A Bar Complaint.


1 comment:

Jenna McWilliams said...

I am very glad about the stay of execution, because I am opposed to the death penalty and believe that if we're going to deploy it then we have an obligation to wring out every last detail from a case. But I wouldn't want us to treat this event as proof of the transformative power of social media.

In this case, Twitter was used, at best, as a medium for sharing information, not for mobilizing or empowering a public to act. Indeed, this is an area wherein Twitter is more like a newspaper than a tool for public action. This isn't a bad thing, but mistaking or misinterpeting its role could be. Make no mistake: public opinion had no bearing whatsoever on the outcome of Hank Skinner's appeal. That is, from what little I know about these things, exactly as things are supposed to be when it comes to Supreme Court rulings.