Legal Cheek roving reporter Cat Pond reviews yesterday's Weber Shandwick 'Social Media & the Law' event, where Twitter Joke Trial silk John Cooper QC and several other high-profile guests spent an interesting morning
Armed with cups of coffee, the assembled attendees at yesterday’s 'Social media and the Law' breakfast seminar took their seats. The panelists had a mere 15 minutes each to impart their wisdom – a timeframe that was rued by the opening speaker, 25 Bedford Row's John Cooper QC, who is used to getting rather more time on his feet in court.
Nevertheless, Cooper – of Twitter Joke Trial fame – still managed to draw a fairly comprehensive outline of the state of the law in relation to social media and how its rise has impacted on the work of media lawyers. Cooper also considered the developing employment law in relation to social media, explaining – in what came as a shock to me and other attendees – that the intended audience of an online post often has no bearing on whether the writer can be dismissed from their job or not. Food for thought for lawyers using Facebook.
Jenny Afia, a partner at Schillings, was next up. A self-confessed social media addict, Afia "uses LinkedIn for people I know, Facebook for stalking people I used to know, and Twitter for talking to people I’d like to know" – a confession that prompted smiling nods of recognition from members of the audience. Not everyone was smiling, though. 'Media Guido', the media correspondent of political blog Guido Fawkes who was in attendance at the event, tweeted mid-way through: "At #WSsocialmedia & law event. Panel includes lawyer who threatened to jail me for reporting the truth." To which Cooper QC responded: "That was not me!!!" Could Media Guido have been referring to Ms Afia?
The Schillings partner went on to urge the lawyers in the room to follow her lead and become "more sociable", while at the same time working closely with colleagues in their firm’s HR and communications teams in order to ensure that they present a relatively united corporate message. This is how gaffes are avoided, she added.
John Evans, head of digital at Weber Shandwick – the PR company which organised the event – had a similar take, advising firms and chambers to keep those who tweet officially to a limited number, then provide the chosen few with compliance training.
But the Daily Telegraph’s Consumer Technology Editor, Matt Warman, provided some words of warning about the dangers of overly corporate tweeting – not least that it lacks spontaneity. Warman suggested that law firms and other large organisations could get round this by making sure that the sort of compliance training mentioned by Evans was top-notch, enabling employees to know exactly what they can and can't tweet. That way, he continued, they won't have to check every message before sending it – an issue at the Olympics, which made for really stilted and formal official tweets.
And that was that, with scant time for questions. The final word goes to @DecSop1: "Best comment @ law & social media event," she tweeted: "'Only lawyers wd hold a panel on opening up debate & not leave time for discussion!'"