Twitter and the Scottish legal spring: Lawyers use social media to revolt against Scottish Government plans

The professions have been slower to embrace the potential of social media than the early adopters of media and marketing. But suddenly, rather than the usual, somewhat plodding branding and PR efforts exhibited so far, a remarkable and unexpected social media story began unfolding on Saturday evening.

Steven Raeburn

The weekend is always a ripe time for productive second screening, and it reached a fruition of sorts, as you will have seen if you saw the news last night or this morning’s papers, with a gathering of around 200 solicitors at the Scottish Parliament in protest at planned changes to legal aid.

A profession that has been slow to embrace the new technology appears to have suddenly found its feet, and started running, fast, giving surprising birth to the first legal social media movement.

The issue that riled them is simple; a law change is proposed to make those accused of crimes pay a portion of the cost of bringing the case against them. The lawyer defending them has to collect this portion. The issue is ethical, and the profession en masse objects in principle.

A wider disquiet over similar issues has been discussed in the five years since the newly elected Scottish Government began its reforms; not minor tweaks; the removal of the fundamental pillars of justice is underway, and the profession has watched with horror, but taken little effective action.

Until now.

From a profession of around 10,000, there are only around 360 known users of twitter in the legal fraternity. Last week, the possibility of strike action was raised, and a small but passionate army of lawyers embraced twitter to exchange their views, and found themselves reeling in common disgust as Saturday evening rolled around. Before you could say “Strictly Come Dancing,” a march on the Parliament was proposed, and a hashtag was born; #ProtestForJustice.

To seasoned social media observers and adopters, and epecially in the context of the Arab Spring, this may not sound like a giant leap for mankind. However this is a conservative profession, slow to embrace change and not prone to direct action. It has not acted with unity since the prospect of the feared “Tesco Law” was imposed upon them. Despite mass objection, no clear movement in opposition formed.

And then suddenly, at the weekend, a disparate, rival bunch from across the country were unifying, arranging buses, pooling resources and spreading the word. All had prior professional commitments, but rearranged them to show solidarity and take part. To find such rapid concordance unfolding via social media is as radical and unexpected an outcome as growing a third leg would be. Unless you were in the know.

Those at the heart of the social media storm included advocate @MadisonMitchel1 and @The PrisonLawyer, both former social media training clients of mine, and whom I can name openly, as both have provided public testimonials.

Joining them in raising the awareness of the action via twitter were other former pupils, their colleagues and nascent social network who they have been collectively encouraging to take the twitter plunge and engage more. Amongst them was a lawyer whose training had only been carried out on Friday, and by Saturday, he was in the middle of a rebellion, a joined on the front line by the President and Chef executive of the Law Society itself. All achieved via twitter. Now that is progress.

The Parliamentary protest was carried on all the main news channels, and fills today’s morning’s papers. The significance of this first collective action cannot be overstated; the profession is united as never before, and its unity has been achieved through twitter and active social media engagement. A real determined focus has been forged, and those at the heart of it now speak of the beginning of a struggle, rather than the end.

At the end of yesterday the campaign had morphed into the decision to create a nude calendar of chaps from the profession (#ScottishLegalNudes), and a formerly disparate group of individuals, many of whom met only for the first time on the front line yesterday, have formed close bonds.

Predictably, plans are now afoot to seal the friendships in beer. The end result, aside from the intangible benefits of a personal and professional network, could see major changes wrought to the legal profession, and the halting in its tracks of planned reforms. It could be the ejection of the Government. It could be simply a lot of hangovers. But it is happening. And it is only the beginning.

Find out more about Social Media Training for Lawyers

Steven Raeburn is a social media trainer and editor of legal magazine The Firm

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