Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Tweeting Law

Legal research with Twitter? What? Twitter is a medium confined to text messages of 140 characters at a time. What of value to a legal researcher could possibly fit into that space?

That is a fair question, but if Twitter was ever about "what I had for lunch," it is no longer. Now, legal scholars write there frequently, the legal media uses it as another broadcast platform, and governments use it to post information for the public. Overall, it can be a useful source for staying abreast of hot legal issues, including issues that might be a good starting point for a Law Review Note.

There are many law professors using Twitter now. Recently, the media organization WorldWideLearn compiled a list of the “top 50” law professors on Twitter. I cannot vouch for WorldWideLearn that these are in fact the best 50 professors to follow, but it is a good place to start looking for professors on any legal topic.  

As for legal media, The American Lawyer and ABA Journal both tweet daily. Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly also tweets its top stories at @masslw.

Researchers can also use Twitter to have new court opinions and government information pushed directly to their computers. If you follow @USSupremeCourt, they will tweet links to new opinions the day they are released. The Law Library of Congress sponsors two Twitter acocunts: @THOMASdotgov, for legislative information, particularly video of current Congressional hearings; and @LawLibCongress, with updates on services from the library. Many government agencies have twitter feeds. The White House has created a list of 56 of them at!/whitehouse/usg.

So, with all of this information being pushed to Twitter, how does one organize it? Unfortunately, Twitter's own search capabilities do not go back very far in time. There are other services, like Topsy, which lets one search further back on the public Twitter feed, and SnapBird, which searches older tweets on an individual's feed. Using Twitter's API and some coding know-how, it is possible for researchers to build their own tweet harvester. Luckily, at some point, the Library of Congress, which has the complete Twitter archive, will facilitate researching old tweets. Unfortunately, that day is still years away.

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