A background on Help the Lawyers LLC and thoughts on where we may be headed…
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…
About 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 now 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. To be clear- I am nowhere near an airport, so many volunteers were scrambling around at this time. I was one of them.
We started seeing how the tech community wanted to help @helpthelawyers, so we did things like asking about tech issues happening at each airport site. 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. To help the public understand what the filings meant (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 this type of content is political. Many tweets are rough, profanity laced.
I will not support profanity and hysterics 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.
And little do they know, they are using in a disruptive way!
Where I could be headed with Help the Lawyers, LLC
~First, I can make this my job. But I need to find funding.
First and foremost, I need to secure an income for me. I can’t do this for free forever, and it is a full-time job. So I’ve set up a Patreon page here http://www.pantreon.com/sarakubik
Patreon donations are for people who produce content. It is different than GoFundMe and I have been told that this is the best way to go right now.
This is money will be to help me, which in turn helps me grow Help the Lawyers LLC. I know that a start-up based upon one person is totally unsustainable. So I need to address this first.
~To Twitter, and Beyond!
But where is Help the Lawyers LLC headed? It seems to be changing rapidly. I am working on getting a pitch deck created so I can secure investor funding for my start-up.
To date, HtL is just on Twitter. But that could change. 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.
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.
It just so happens that lawyers are using Twitter in a disruptive way. I feel that lawyers using Twitter and following the @helpthelawyers account are disrupting the broken, slow legal system that many call horrible, but also the best in the world.
Why wouldn’t I want to help the lawyers with that?