Wayne Serra spends his workday immersed in the rarefied world of intellectual property law.
He prepares software patent applications, defends infringement claims and advises clients on medical research developments. But every once in a while, the Cleveland lawyer sticks his toe into the broad conversational river known as Twitter.
Its like microblogging crossed with instant messaging. The initial appeal appeared to be mostly among tech-heads and teenyboppers who had an urge to relay real-time bulletins to their friends about any and everything.
Now the Twitosphere, as its known, is drawing in a steady stream of lawyers and other professionals who are networking with peers, posting industry news and drumming up business.
"Its a very powerful tool, a way to get discreet bits of information in front of people," said Serra, a partner at Ulmer & Berne.
Serra, 41, has Twittered about:
- Interesting patent cases in court
- Novel interpretations of intellectual property law
- Issues at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
- New computer technology.
Hes also kept touch with other patent lawyers and with IT leaders such as Apples chief design technician, Jonathan Ive, and a top program manager at Google, Chris DiBona. He follows 61 other Twitterers and has 118 following him.
Serras goal is to build a community of like-minded professionals who exchange ideas. Ambrogi calls it a virtual water cooler. The Boston attorney at first doubted Twitters usefulness because of its "high noise ratio." Now he views it as an interesting way to keep his finger on the pulse of what lawyers are talking about.
Lawyers can use Twitter to monitor whats being said about their firm, a client or a business, Ambrogi said. Twitter also can play into the "ubiquity factor" of marketing — repeatedly getting your name in front of potential clients.
Twitter is indeed full of banal chatter, maybe because its free, easy and instant. Its biggest drawback, users say, is the sheer onslaught of words. For lawyers operating under information overload already, it can be a prodigious distraction.
Ambrogi handles it through software called a Tweetdeck that scrolls in-coming tweets on a screen separate from his computer, much like a Times Square ticker tape. Even so, its a time-eater, and Ambrogi frequently shuts off the tweets.
Kevin OKeefe, chief executive of LexBlog, also was a Twitter skeptic. "I couldnt see the benefit of it, someone saying My cat just rolled over, " OKeefe recounted in a call from Seattle, where he runs his Internet marketing company for lawyers.
He changed his mind after last years devastating earthquake in China, when Twitter broke the news before the mainstream media. Twitterers also got the jump on the terrorist attack in Mumbai and the Continental Airlines jet that slid off a runway in Denver last month. "Holy &* %%, I was just in a plane crash," passenger Mike Wilson messaged seconds after the accident.
Convinced that Twitter had impact, OKeefe signed up and began weaving it into his legal work.
He now pronounces it the single biggest branding tool hes ever used. It allows lawyers to network on steroids, he said, making it a far more efficient tool than joining a country club and playing golf.
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