Twitter and Other People’s Privacy

This Saturday, February 18, 2012, I’ll be attending the Maryland State Bar Association’s Hanging a Shingle program. I’m participating not as a speaker (not asked) or as a way to promote my books, Solo by Choice or Social Media for Lawyers or this blog (I can’t, since the MSBA endorses neither), but simply as a practicing lawyer and MSBA member (I joined to access our gated ethics opinions) eager to pick up a few new practice tips and put my finger on the pulse of the solo experience here in one of my home jurisdictions. Of course, when I pay money to attend a conference, in addition to learning substantive content, I also want to make every networking minute count and that’s where Twitter comes in. In the past, I’ve found that tweeting a conference helps me to quickly connect with others at the conference, and gives me visibility outside as my followers turn to my stream for updates.

Most conferences that I attend encourage participants to tweet — and I know, that when I speak, I enjoy the added coverage. When I mentioned my plan to Tweet to one of the conference organizers, I received a positive feedback but also a warning, specifically, to avoid disclosure of the names of any other conference participants in my tweets. The organizer explained that many participants at the Hanging a Shingle event may not have revealed their plans about starting a firm, and prefer anonymity.

To be honest, in all my years of using social media, the issue of other colleagues’ privacy isn’t one that I’d considered seriously. While I zealously guard the confidentiality of my clients and cases, not to mention private, off the record conversations, it simply never crossed my mind that lawyers attending a conference would rather that others not know that they’re present. I mean, a conference is a public place – and there’s always a risk that an attendee might run into an existing employer or colleague whom they’d rather not see. Other than dress in costume or avoid attending entirely, seems to me that the solution to fear of exposure is simply, to suck it up.

At the same time, while it’s one thing to be recognized within the confines of a conference – (and perhaps have a colleague tell your employer that he saw you), it’s another to receive a shout-out on Twitter and have news of your attendance broadcast to a wider circle. Though that’s a dream for many social media gurus, for some lawyers who may not yet be ready to announce plans to start a practice (or who may have blown off a client to attend an event), that kind of public disclosure, without consent, could be a curse.

Though I’m fairly certain that there’s no law prohibiting a Tweet noting a sighting at a solo conference of @biglawyerhoncho, the partner at the big law firm that fired you last year, just because I can say something doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do. Sure, if I can’t give a Twitter shout out to a colleague or long lost friend, it may make it more difficult to track them down at the conference. But that’s a result I’m willing to live with, since a desire to make connections shouldn’t come at someone else’s expense. Social media is, after all, comprised of a lot more than just the “me.”

Let me know what you think in the comments below.  Do you tweet about others by name and without permission? What factors go into your assessment?

Note: If you want to find me at the MSBA meeting this weekend, you’ve got my permission to tweet me at @carolynelefant or DM me if I follow you. Also, DM or email me ( about $5 copies of the first edition of Solo by Choice and deeply discounted copies of SBC II and the companion guide  ($20 or pay-what-you-can-afford); may have some Social Media for Lawyers books as well.  I can’t sell my books at the conference but as a convenience to my local colleagues, I am happy to have copies on hand to fulfill advance requests and save us both the cost and hassle of postage.  Finally, be sure to follow my tweets from the conference!