From Briefs to Tweets: May It Tweet the Court! - Articles

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Posted by: William Haltom on May 1, 2012

Journal Issue Date: May 2012

Journal Name: May 2012 - Vol. 48, No. 5

Winston Churchill once wrote a friend, “I apologize for writing you such a long letter. I did not have time to write you a short one.”

Sir Winston was a master of the written and spoken word. As President Kennedy once said, “Winston Churchill mobilized the English language and sent it into battle.”

Sir Winston knew that brevity and precision are critical features of effective writing. Consequently, he labored to write short letters, not long ones.

But even Churchill might have been challenged by Twitter, the modern social medium that limits communications, or “Tweets,” to 140 characters.

Twitter has become the medium of choice for millions of online Americans who want to quickly send to-the-point messages.

But while many lawyers are characters, we are not inclined to limit our writing to 140 characters.

There is generally nothing brief about a lawyer’s brief. Indeed, “lawyer’s brief” may be an oxymoron like “jumbo shrimp” or “preliminary conclusion” or “student athlete.” But the Twitter phenomenon is already impacting the legal profession, as many lawyers are regularly tweeting to clients and friends.

And don’t be surprised if courts soon move from briefs to tweets in both oral and written advocacy.

According to an article in a recent edition of the ABA Journal, students from five Canadian law schools recently competed in the first-ever Tweet Court competition.

The online competition was sponsored by the West Coast Environmental Law Group. Law students represented each side in the appeal of a real Canadian environmental lawsuit, West Moberly First Nations v. British Columbia.

The competing Twitter teams had to succinctly present their cases and answer questions from judges in the forms of tweets. [Follow it at #twtmoot.] This is quite a challenge when you consider that the phrase “May it please the court” contains 23 characters all by itself.

So far Twitter Moot Court has not spread across the Canadian border. But it’s just a matter of time before American law students get on board — or more accurately, online.

And once Twitter becomes the template for moot court advocacy, we will be just a few characters away from real Twitter court, in which all appellate briefs are limited to 140 characters, and oral argument will consist of lawyers tweeting back and forth to the Court of Appeals.

Faster than you can type “May it please the court,” we may soon also see Face Court, the new social media site for trials. In Face Court, we trial lawyers will post our proof to a judge and jury who are following the proceedings on their laptops, iPads, or smart phones.

When this happens, we lawyers will be able to try a case in our briefs rather than with our briefs.

Let me conclude with a closing tweet.

I apologize for writing such a long column. I did not have time to write a short one, and I absolutely refuse to tweet it. (122)

Bill Haltom Bill Haltom is a partner with the Memphis firm of Thomason, Hendrix, Harvey, Johnson & Mitchell. He is past president of the Tennessee Bar Association and is a past president of the Memphis Bar Association.