To Tweet Or Not To Tweet? That Is The Question

By Maroulla Paul for CitySolicitor Magazine, Winter 2023 Edition

Lawyers - and law firms - often find themselves in the spotlight yet it seems to be rarely of their own choosing. Historically, lawyers were prohibited to advertise themselves and even when that changed, their personalities didn’t. Many psychological and personality reports show lawyers to be ‘introverted’, ‘low on sociability’, ‘private’, ‘lacking self-confidence’. Studies show lawyers prefer to be alone in a private office rather than to share space with colleagues. All of these traits add up to a profession that likes to keep itself to itself and one that is not likely to be sharing its thoughts and opinions by tweeting on X or Threads several times a day.

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Unfortunately for the majority of our profession, our modern world is all about self-publicity, self-selling, self-branding.  Social media can make or break careers. How can the modern lawyer learn to adapt to this?

One lawyer has long been at the forefront of changing how our profession is perceived and how it presents itself. Sue Stapely is a highly experienced solicitor and also a reputation management consultant and media coach. She started her career at the BBC working up from a PA to Assistant Director. After leaving to start a family, she decided to study Law and, simultaneously, ran a Citizen’s Advice Bureau. After qualifying, she specialised in Family Law and helped set up Resolution, the Family Law Solicitors’ organisation. She was headhunted by the Law Society after giving a talk on the dated image of the profession and the need to update it. She was appointed to create and run a newly formed Public Relations and Parliamentary Unit at the Law Society and so began a mission to help our profession successfully self-publicise.

“I liaised with the 250 local Law Societies, established a Press Officer and Parliamentary Officer in each, all practising solicitors with an interest in and knowledge of these areas. They formed a valuable network to spread the word locally to their local press and MPs about Law Society public information campaigns I mounted (Make A Will Week, which still runs, the Legal Aid campaigns, etc), and helped me and my team lobby on some 100 pieces of legislation. For the 5 years I was with the Law Society I was legal advisor to the Archers and also stood in for Andrew Phillips as one of the Legal Beagles on the BBC Radio 2 Jimmy Young show most months.  I coached about 150 solicitors, at all levels and a few barristers and judges, in communication, presentation and media handling skills, using a small camera crew.  Working long before social media had become commonplace, much of my work was aimed at making solicitors seem more accessible, affordable, and understandable with un-stuffy public information campaigns.”

Sue was then invited to join branding and design consultancy Fishburn Hedges as a director responsible for developing its law firm client base.  She created the branding for Osborne Clarke, handled many City law firm mergers (including the one which created Cameron Markby Hewitt), advised on the media handling of several high profile cases and worked pro bono on many miscarriage of justice cases. For the last twenty years Sue has operated Sue Stapely Consulting and for a decade was one of the small team at Quiller Consultants, the niche public affairs consultancy, where her clients were household name companies and individuals, front page court cases, Royal Colleges and major international law firms.  Sue also ran pro bono, the media campaign which gave rise to over-turning the wrongful imprisonment of solicitor, Sally Clark, falsely convicted of murdering her babies.  This changed the way miscarriages of justice have been reported ever since.

We asked Sue why she thinks lawyers tend to be such reluctant self-publicists?

“Broad generalisations are always dangerous. Some solicitors and barristers are very able self-publicists but most people find modesty and self-deprecation more appealing than bragging.  I have always felt the lawyer’s role is to be the advocate for their client and that their work should not be a device with which to publicise themselves.  There is, however, increasing awareness on the part of firms and barristers’ chambers that name checks for the firm or chambers will heighten awareness and build both client satisfaction to have appointed a well-reported entity and heightening brand awareness will perform a valuable marketing function.  There is often tension within firms between the marketing and development staff who want the firm named and promoted wherever possible and the lawyers whose primary concern is and should be the representation of their clients, not themselves.  A quite separate task can involve the lawyer understanding and working with the media to build awareness of the merits of their client’s case.”

Does Sue think it is important for lawyers to ‘speak’ publicly?

“The legal profession has rarely enjoyed a positive profile. Legal services are a distress purchase and most people only encounter lawyers when something in their lives has gone wrong or is causing them stress. Anything we can do individually or collectively to improve this image has to be helpful and could also encourage clients to seek legal advice earlier rather than waiting till things have become disastrous before doing so. Joshua Rozenberg’s ‘Law in Action’ (before him presented by the splendid Marcel Berlins) remains a very popular programme with non-legal members of the public as it demystifies the law and makes complex cases understandable.  Provided the individual lawyer is not just grand-standing to raise their own personal profile, I think it is important and welcome that lawyers are increasingly taking part in programmes, granting interviews, speaking for their clients on the court steps and writing cogent advice columns in mainstream publications. I would just urge them to get a little training before they embark on this.”

What sort of training and tools does Sue think lawyers need to equip themselves with?

“These are skills which some have more naturally than others and are not part of the solicitors’ or barristers’ training, though competence as an advocate can build confidence in public speaking and granting media interviews.  I have had the privilege of coaching literally hundreds of solicitors and barristers in how to present themselves, their clients, their causes and their firms/chambers effectively and memorably and I have not found a single person who has not visibly benefited from coaching.  The way that lawyers are still trained, by shadowing an experienced practitioner, will influence how s/he handle the media, speak and write.  The skills required to work with the immediacy of social media are very different from those when working with the print and broadcast media.  Zoom or Teams meetings have a very different dynamic than meetings in real life and the skills to make one’s case or one’s client’s case can be taught too.  If mooting and debating was part of a law degree course or professional legal course this will give advocates communications skills for many eventualities, but I should like to see these skills taught to all who propose to practise law from how to conduct the first interview well to how to write a case summary or brief to counsel.  Mark Adler’s ‘Plain Legal Language’ book and his Clarity campaign went some way to encourage all lawyers to write in plain comprehensible English and not to slip, ever, into Latin!”

Sue has herself written a book ‘Media Relations for Lawyers’ which is published by the Law Society and more information can be found on her own website also, . It covers the basics and still remains the only book on the subject that is specifically designed for lawyers.

One of the first lawyers Sue trained was a then young lawyer called Mark Stephens. She patently did a good job as Mark is, today, one of our most well known City lawyers and definitely not someone who can ever be accused of avoiding the limelight or being camera shy. Mark, a partner at Howard Kennedy LLP, is constantly in our newspapers, on our television screens and all over social media giving us insights on high profile cases like the Depp Heard trial, causing controversy with his thought provoking comments and even making us laugh with some good old fashioned jokes. With almost 20,000 followers on X (the artist formerly known as Twitter) and several posts daily, Mark cannot be accused of being afraid of self-publicising.

Mark’s journey was always on the road less travelled. In what was then almost unprecedented, Mark set up his own law firm at the age of 24 and so did not have the usual constraints that others working in the more traditional firms had imposed upon them. In those days the profession considered it “very infradig” if a lawyer spoke to the media.  It was simply not done. In 1988, when the Copyright Act was passed, a producer at LBC wanted to do a piece on this and called Mark because he was an IP specialist. That producer, Kelvin O’ Shea, went on to Sky News and as they didn’t have a legal correspondent Kelvin called on Mark to be a regular contributor. Mark was one of only about a handful of solicitors who were publicly speaking in the media at the time and, by Mark’s own admission, none of them was doing it that well. It was at this point Sue Stapely stepped in, gathered them all together and trained them for stardom - or at least not to make fools of themselves. This was the first time solicitors began to have media skills.

Mark very quickly became popular amongst the media for providing good content. In fact, in the BBC’s little black book of contacts, he had GT written against his name - which he discovered meant ‘good talker’. One reason for Mark’s popularity was his ability to explain legal stuff in plain English, in a way the listener could understand - and even enjoy. One mistake lawyers often make is to think their audience is other lawyers and nobody has a clue what they are talking about.

Despite his growing media profile, Mark stayed off social media until the end of 2009 where he now prolifically posts about law, about human rights, education, politics, society as well as throwing in the odd joke for good measure. Everything Mark posts is done with intent, with interest, with passion - not just for the sake of posting. All of the serious posts are subjects genuinely close to his heart - and even the jokes are there because, in his own dark times, humour lifted him and gave him solace, so he posts them in the hope they will make someone else smile too.

“When I first posted humour on LinkedIn I got trolled; people saying this was not a platform for jokes. But most people enjoyed them and leapt to my defence. Sometimes people miss the irony and take the posts seriously - which is a result of only having the written word with no intonation - but even these misunderstandings spark a whole debate which adds to the enjoyment.”

Mark is not afraid to criticise the Government - whichever Government it happens to be. He is quick to point out that it is not about showing allegiance to one or other political party, it is simply about speaking the truth.

“I have a stripe of hooligan that goes through me like a piece of Brighton rock. I have a tendency to call out inappropriateness amongst the powerful. If what you say has verisimilitude then it hits home with people irrespective of their political leanings.”

Mark believes it is perfectly acceptable for lawyers to make political social commentary - which he differentiates from being party political, something he does not consider himself to be. In fact, Mark goes further than to finding it merely acceptable’,

“There is nothing more dull than not having an opinion. An opinion lets you kick against it, or build on it, or embrace it. I offer views on politics just as I do on cases. When I spoke about the Johnny Depp trial, I got very severely trolled for being critical of him and the case he put forward which I thought was deeply misogynistic and misguided. That was not a popular view. You need to have a reasonably thick hide to speak your mind on social media.”

Being open is part of who Mark is. He says he is “not controversial for its own sake but it is intended to be thoughtful.”

Whilst Mark is probably very atypical in the generation of lawyers he is from, are young lawyers more like him in their willingness to ‘share’ their thoughts with the public?

Maia Crockford is a trainee solicitor at DAC Beachcroft LLP and has grown up in a very different time, world and profession from the one Mark grew up in.  She is a year away from qualification and can be summed up as the modern lawyer personified. She has an Instagram account called @mylegalcareer where she literally chronicles her life as a trainee; she talks about work/life balance, studying, exams, London, fashion - everything you would expect to be a part of a young lawyer’s - indeed a young person’s - life. She has, in essence, turned on the light on a profession that has too long been cloaked in mystery and made it accessible. @mylegalcareer has almost 26,000 followers and it is inspiring people who may never have contemplated the Law as a possible career to rethink.

“Should the modern lawyer publicise themselves? I actually think that is a really important topic. I believe being a legal professional and having an online presence should not be mutually exclusive. It does not and should not imply you don’t prioritise your job. Our industry is quite traditional and perhaps a little slow sometimes to get its head around new technologies and developments - like social media. We are seeing change but there are still some old views remaining that we should not be open about being a legal professional online. We are quite a closed industry with a lot of rules about what we should and shouldn’t be talking about. But people are trying to change that now. Of course there are lines which should never be crossed - things like client confidentiality and other obligations the SRA put upon us.  But we are well aware of the rules and should be trusted to follow them in the workplace and in our personal lives. Social media should be seen as an extension of these - not something different. We know what is expected of us in the office - so it follows the same standards are expected when we post online.”-

Maia was one of the very first legal apprentices so, when she began in the profession, there was little she could draw on from others. This prompted her to share her own experience for the benefit of others considering becoming an apprentice and those who were about to begin so they had a bit more information about what to expect than she herself did. This is how @mylegalcareer was born. 

“I wanted to show what being an apprentice entailed - and that just snowballed. It has now grown to encompass all the things I love - my work, first and foremost, but also the City of London - somewhere I have always wanted to work and which I thoroughly enjoy - and also fashion -which has always been a passion of mine. The page is also a great forum for people to connect; it’s a very easy way to build up a network. I often get help and advice from people much more senior and experienced replying to a question I may post - these are people I may not have had access to otherwise.”

What is the demographic of Maia’s 26k followers?

“52% of my audience is 18-24 - that is my main target and why I set up the page - to encourage and inform apprentices, I want them to see they can take control of their career and own it. 87% are women (unsurprisingly) and London is by far the biggest location.”

Whilst it is normal for people of Maia’s age to be publicly sharing so much of their life on social media, it has to date been less so for the profession. She has had nothing but support from her firm who trust her to know how to behave appropriately. But she has set a trend and a lot of other early talent space in law. Even though in current day jargon Maia can be described as an ‘influencer’, she sees her day job as a lawyer her priority and feels her social media helps her - and others in the profession - rather than detracting from it.

One way she helps others is via a 2nd instagram account, @yourlegalcareer. Whilst the main account is for showcasing her own personal career journey, she has created a space dedicated to helping other people with theirs by providing guidance and information.

Maia fully understands the value of getting yourself and your name out there and recognises that publicity is multifaceted, extending  beyond just social media - so she speaks at events and conferences as much as time and opportunity allow.

Rebecca Hume is also a partner at Howard Kennedy LLP.  She spent 12 years of her career in the Cayman Islands dealing with contentious fraud, insolvency and restructuring. She returned to the UK in 2020 so City life is still relatively new to her.  Rebecca believes that one issue that faces lawyers when they are self-publicising is in direct relation to the actual work they do.  This can be tricky and challenging particularly if it, say, involves high net worth individuals because the nature of the work is highly sensitive. Also, sectors such as private wealth tend to have clients who prefer their lawyers not to be up front and centre in the media. That aside, Rebecca thinks we now are in an age where lawyers have no choice but to publicise.

“If you look at the way people now buy legal services, they buy them using a number of different factors. Publications like Chambers and Legal 500 are now much more important to lawyers than they actually are to clients searching for the right firm.  If, through the use of social media, you can show your expertise and demonstrate that you are ahead of the curve on a particular subject like crypto, say, that will attract clients. In fact, these days if you don’t have a profile, clients question whether you actually have the ability to do the job. It has become a prerequisite. Where we are uncomfortable with it is that we are not trained to write short, snappy copy. Historically lawyers write lengthy tomes - the more we write the better. A succinct tweet does not come naturally to us.”

Rebecca also stresses the importance of writing to your audience; exactly as both Sue and Mark pointed out, to remember that the reader is not always another lawyer. A potential client will be more interested in a more business-like, problem-solving approach. 

Knowledge lawyer, Klara Kronsbergs says’

“There used to be a perception that if as a lawyer you did good work and clients enjoyed working with you, they would recommend you to others. Clients were often introduced through word of mouth. There was no need, therefore, to ‘sell’ as such. The market space has now become more crowded and you need to stand out as a lawyer in order to attract clients. And that includes self-publicity.”

Klara says she quickly understood the value of writing articles, speaking at conferences and doing webinars to show you are an expert in a particular topic.  Part of being a good lawyer today is to have the ability to sell yourself – not necessarily in the traditional sales way - but by demonstrating your knowledge.

“When used correctly, social media is another very powerful tool for showcasing your knowledge in a particular area and making you a notable person in that field. It’s a great platform to post links to articles a lawyer has written so best maximising the reach of those pieces.”

It seems that the answer to the question as to whether lawyers should tweet is a very resounding yes. It is a powerful sales tool. It differentiates lawyers. It demonstrates expertise. It highlights personality so determining for a client whether the relationship could work.

But we must not ignore that self-publicity seems to go against the very nature of who  lawyers are as people and the short sharp way that is needed to effectively communicate in social media is in direct contrast with the way lawyers normally write,

These are problems that can be overcome; with practice, with training. They are also problems that our younger lawyers do not seem to be burdened with. It seems very obvious that as time moves forward a good online presence will be a fundamental requirement for a successful lawyer.