A background on Help the Lawyers LLC and thoughts on where we want to go next
The only job listed in the U.S. Constitution is that of a lawyer. Lawyers are critical to who we are as a nation.
Our nation is built on three separate but equal branches. The Executive Branch, Legislative Branch and Judicial Branch. Lawyers work in all three, but are most apparent in the Judicial Branch.
I formed a company called Help the Lawyers, LLC this past Valentine’s day with a goal of helping lawyers. Here is my story…
Three weeks ago I was studying to take the Bar exam in Michigan. After the President signed an Executive Order, that many called a travel ban, I saw the news on Twitter of the lawyers rushing to the airports and standing with hand-written signs saying they were there to help.
I kept reading tweets that said, “How can I help the lawyers?”
I answered these tweets with something like, “Get the coffee” or “They might need food” or “Just say thank you”. I began searching for the terms “help” and “lawyers” and would reply to the tweets and add a hashtag #helpthelawyers. To my surprise, this became a trending topic.
A day later, a gal named Natalie Lyda created the Twitter account @helpthelawyers. She was not as Twitter-savvy as I was, and agreed to let me come on board and help run the account. I have been on Twitter for many years and had about 1000 followers under my own account (@sarakubik). My background is technology, marketing, business, and the law, and I had tweeted and published in these areas.
On Twitter, I called myself a technical translator of different languages and skills. My degrees include a Phd in technology, a JD in law, an MBA in marketing and management and a BA in graphic design.
I began tweeting and producing content behind @helpthelawyers that utilized my skills and knowledge in unique, exciting, and novel ways.
The Nitty Gritty of @HelptheLawyers
Right now, Help the Lawyers LLC is only on Twitter under the account called @helpthelawyers
I am basically running this account by myself. And I need help, here is why…
~ Getting food and coffee
It started off that @helpthelawyers would help coordinate getting coffee to various airport sites or specific lawyers on the ground. We used volunteers to help us as we were not located at any airport (I am actually living in rural Michigan and am using a pre-paid TracFone to coordinate most of this). Everything was done to help the pro bono lawyers at the airports.
Various Twitter accounts started emerging for the different major airports affected by the travel ban. Dulles, Ohare, Newark, Logan, Seattle-Tacoma, Los Angeles, San Francisco, JFK.
~Helping with tech
I began to pull content from the various sites and help develop the smaller sites by connecting them to the on-line resources I now had developed. Needs at the airports moved from getting coffee and food to getting wi-fi hotspots so the lawyers at the airports could file their briefs.
Tech wanted to help @helpthelawyers, so we would try to query each site regarding their tech needs. I also translated many tech tweets to our lawyers so they could understand the content better.
~Teaching lawyers how to use Twitter.
As the days went by, I started turning to educating the lawyers who were on Twitter but were not at the sites. Again, I tried to make the focus be on rule of law to differentiate us from the more political places.
Not only would I tweet basic instructions (like putting text into your bio saying, “I am a lawyer”) but I would tell lawyers how to engage with others on Twitter.
Beyond that, my interests are technology. I was actually building my own Twitter bot before the ban began. Because I can see how bots, and their natural language interface, can help lawyers in many ways.
So it delighted me to pull content from Twitter bots and place it in front of the HtL audience. These bots were built to pull digital filings from the various lawsuits, which normally are harder to access. So having the filings on Twitter was incredible. I had to teach many lawyers what a bot was, and to help the public understand what the filings mean (which were 45 page briefs, etc.), I asked the lawyers to translate the filings into Tweets! What a challenge! Asking lawyers who were new to Twitter to translate a 45 page brief into 140 characters in a way that an everyday person could understand!
But the lawyers did it! They were just on fire!
In order to produce more content and have an active twitter conversation under the @helpthelawyers account, I taught people to tweet to me so I could decide what content is appropriate for the vision I see as HtL. These people include the general public as well as lawyers. All are volunteers, which makes my role of being the gatekeeper very challenging. Because many people are angry right now. And many people want HtL to move to more of a social justice role. My goal is to keep it focused, as much as I can, on the rule of law. The rule of law means our country follows laws. Often times the social justice warrior and rule of law can overlap. But they are different concepts.
Finally, I would send out Tweets and ask the lawyers active under HtL to reply. They were tweets where I (almost always) knew the answer, but I wanted people to see the attorneys who were answering, not @helpthelawyers. This gave the attorneys a larger platform and helped connect them to the average Twitter follower.
Who else is on Twitter for the airport lawyers movement?
There are many airport hubs (like @ORDlawyersHQ) who are focused on the various airports. I aggregate content from them as well as try to help them by boosting their messages to our followers.
There are also some airports that are managed, for the most part, by non-profit organizations like the ACLU.(@OneJusticOrg is at LAX)
There are one-man shows at some sites. Some sites have on-call lawyers. A few individual attorneys have also emerged as leaders at the various sites.
Almost all of the content is political. Many tweets are rough, profanity laced.
I will not support that type of content under HtL. Even though Twitter can be a mean place, and even though many feel a sense of frustration and fear that I do not have the right to denounce, I will not endorse it under HtL.
I can’t control who tweets to us; I can control who I endorse. But this is an unsustainable model. And I am really quite exhausted.
So what is next? Why is HtL needed
~Lawyers are a really, really, really tech-adverse group
Under @helpthelawyers, I teach lawyers how to use Twitter by tweeting about it. I was a professor before this and am used to communicating to non-designers. Here, I am teaching lawyers how to use Twitter through tweets.
Lawyers are a very tech-resistant group. They don’t trust new technologies that are being pushed onto them where the promise of the tech is to make their lives easier. Many don’t trust legal tech consultants who are not also lawyers. And the legal system often requires lawyers to file in paper-based ways; many lawyers fax and many do not use e-mail.
The legal industry is incredibly old and well-established. It is not unreasonable to think that a lawyer may ask, “If it has worked for so long, why change?”
With that in mind, having a lawyer come to Twitter (especially because of @helpthelawyers) is a huge endeavor. I tweet to many new lawyers to get them up to speed; I have direct messaged many lawyers and groomed them in a way that they tweet content under our account. They are smart people, and the ones that have moved from Facebook to Twitter are especially quick to learn.
I have seen no other entity do this. I have seen no other entity help get lawyers onto a public platform that they would normally dismiss and rapidly get them up to speed to the point where it benefits them and their legal practice.
Of course HtL, alone, is not the sole reason why lawyers are moving onto Twitter. I repeatedly tweeted that we are in a unique time when both sides of the v (Plaintiff and Defendants) are openly talking on the public communication channel that is Twitter. Never before have we had a President who tweets out his thoughts. I often say, “All eyes on Twitter,” because the discussion and dialogue are there.
And Twitter provides quick and easy access to content. My dissertation was a usability study on while older adults use cell phones (and this was 20 years ago, http://docs.lib.purdue.edu/dissertations/AAI3330291/). When my mother told me her cell phone was so important to her but she didn’t know how to use it, I knew I had a dissertation topic. Older adults didn’t use cell phones back then. So why was my mother saying this? Older adults were at tech-adverse group using technology because it provided/solved something important to them.
I can draw a direct parallel from my dissertation research to what I am doing now… helping a tech-adverse group (lawyers) use a social media technology (Twitter). I believe that lawyers are using Twitter because it provides/solves something important to them.
Where I could be headed with Help the Lawyers, LLC
~To Twitter, and Beyond!
Let me be clear- I am not interested in keeping HtL as Twitter account!
Twitter happens to be the technology that is needed right now. And it is critical to lawyers and providing them with a means that they did not have before. It is open, efficient, and connects people in fast, efficient ways. There is not a lot of bloat like there is on many web pages, so people can use mobile devices to access it.
From a usability perspective, it doesn’t take people ten clicks to get to the content they need. The hashtags and lists can be explained to users by HtL tweeting them information.
And Twitter allows someone to engage in dialogue yet be hidden behind a profile picture of a dog. I have seen many egghead Twitter accounts that are lawyers; you can tell by what they write. I have seen profile pictures and names that are vague and used by lawyers who do not want to be known. And there are many people who are outwardfacing… they have a profile picture that is of their face and looking all lawyerly, and they say they are lawyers.
Twitter has allowed all types to communicate. But…
…My goal with Help the Lawyers LLC is to help the lawyers. I know that the next time a solution is needed, my company (and I, specifically) can accomplish this regardless what the technology is.
If the lawyers are no longer needed at the airports, which I suspect will happen, how do we keep them supported? I would like to keep @helpthelawyers going as one way to have lawyers connect on Twitter in an apolitical way, but I obviously need more people than just me behind the account. Based upon the last three weeks, I now have a method in order to train people, but I do not have the funds to support me and my family (I am a single mother) or to hire any people. For many reasons, volunteers are not the answer.
~Getting lawyers more help through technologies
Although I love Twitter, I love any tech that solves a problem. Whether it’s bots, or artificial intelligence, or fog computing (which I have written about here https://www.openfogconsortium.org/a-plain-language-post-about-fog-computing-that-anyone-can-understand/), technologies can and should be able to make the lawyers better at their jobs.
I have tweeted a joke but was very serious… can autonomous vehicles help lawyers who are driving to court or to see their clients work when they are en route? I believe they can. I have seen lawyers drive to court and have been a bit terrified as a passenger in their cars when they do. Lawyers in Michigan, for example, drive all over the state in order to do their jobs. Their cars are mobile tech offices; they multi-task like crazy in there. (Not breaking the laws, though.)
What about another solution? Tele-lawyering can be modeled after telemedicine to help with the lawyer shortage in rural areas across this nation. I have been a part of a telecare study (http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1258/jtt.2010.090902) and can envision how these types of distance-based systems could be mirrored for lawyers.
It’s not all high tech solutions either. I can see Help the Lawyers develop text-messaging solutions for people who do not have access to the internet (rural, lower income) or prefer to communicate by texting and phones. There is a movement called Access to Justice (A2J) which primarily focuses on people with lower incomes to be able to have legal representation. https://www.justice.gov/atj Many solutions are web-based and difficult to understand. And many times these webpages fail because there is a language barrier or the costs are too high to access the page.
It seems like companies and projects jump to higher tech and forget about lo tech. Help the Lawers is about using the tech that works. If A2J wants high tech, maybe develop a bot with a natural language interface that can help a lawyer do automated client intake, while simultaneously reducing the complexity and intimidation most people have when contacting a lawyer.
Lawyers have hard and stressful jobs. Yet they are so needed in our country.
Technologies are often developed for them that are just way too complicated, or not relevant to the challenges lawyers face. Tech solutions for having the public interact with lawyers also tend to be overbuilt and bloated. My frustration comes because I sit at the nexus of many industries and see this happening.
I get excited by technological solutions that work. That are useful. So Help the Lawyers LLC is not just about tweeting. It can be so much more.
And the goal is the same: to help the lawyers.