Sean Marotta, a Hogan Lovells senior associate, was so excited to talk about Twitter on Thursday night that he took a reporter’s call while at the hospital. His wife was in labor.
“I have my iPad and we’re waiting for medicine to kick in,” he said, noting that his wife, Marne, and soon-to-come baby boy were at ease. “Also the Ninth Circuit order is a big deal.”
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in California had ruled around 6 p.m. Thursday to keep blocked the Trump administration’s immigration executive order. The community of appellate lawyers on Twitter, @smmarotta included, lit up.
That community has coalesced around a single hashtag, #appellatetwitter, over the past year, chatting casually about brief-writing, judiciary antics and the mundanities of the practice of law.
When people across the country listened to the Ninth Circuit arguments live Feb. 7, and again last Thursday, with the decision, #appellatetwitter had its moment.
— NU Law Review (@NULRev) February 5, 2017
— Julie Silverbrook (@JMSilverbrook) February 9, 2017
Since Feb. 6, #appellatetwitter has been cited almost 600 times on the social networking platform, with spikes in its appearance on Feb. 7 and Feb. 9, according to social data tracker Talkwalker.
The hashtag benefits from the same zeitgeist that put ScotusBlog.com’s liveblogs into the spotlight years ago. Twitter allows for real-time, free-form conversation, and the hashtag bridges a communications gap around a geographically diverse, technologically resistant and esoteric court system.
“The #appellatetwitter sense of community is unique. Our job as appellate lawyers is often solitary,” Raffi Melkonian, a Wright & Close partner in Houston (@RMFifthCircuit), said. “Among #appellatetwitter, we all have a common sense of purpose.”
Marotta and others attribute the first use of the hashtag on Twitter to Melkonian about eight months ago. Appellate lawyers had met for lunch and posted an update on the social networking site.
The hashtag then became something akin to a punchline, like a smiley face that adds levity at the end of a typed thought. Rachel Gurvich, a law professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law, took notice of the appellate community on Twitter when well-known lawyers started tweeting out #appellatebandnames (Some favorites: Credence Clearwater Retrial; Boyz II Menz Rea; They Might Be Giant Briefs.)
“I joined late to the party last fall and realized there’s an assembly of people. Now we can talk about being law nerds,” Gurvich (@RachelGurvich) said.
— Joey Wright (@jaw_law) January 9, 2017
Pride in the hashtag grew. Some Twitter users started following it more closely, using it as an organizational tool that could produce a livefeed of niche chatter. Super-users emerged. Texas and D.C. both have large contingents of appellate lawyers who tweet. Neal Katyal, the former acting solicitor general now at Hogan Lovells (@neal_katyal), tweets frequently, as do Justice Don Willett of the Texas Supreme Court (@JusticeWillett), and Judge Stephen Dillard of Georgia’s Court of Appeals (@JudgeDillard).
“Even though the #appellatetwitter discussion has a hashtag and so forth, it’s not clubby. I love it when students or people from other fields take an interest and weigh in with new angles,” said Michelle Olsen, a former Jones Day lawyer and blogger (@AppellateDaily).
— Bob Loeb (@BobLoeb) December 27, 2016
Over the winter, Jason Steed, a partner at Bell Nunnally & Martin in Dallas, ordered a shipment of black mugs with “#appellatetwitter” printed on them in white. He also made a tumbler version. Steed (@5thCircAppeals) has shipped 150 mugs and 60 tumblers across the country, with one going to Norway.
— Mark Miller (@MillerAppeals) December 25, 2016
It’s common now to see #appellatetwitter devotees take photos of their mugs and post the images to the site. Kannon Shanmugam, the former deputy principal solicitor general and Williams & Connolly partner, uses his to store commemorative quills from Supreme Court arguments.
Subgroups have proliferated as well.
Marotta and Gurvich formalized the use of another hashtag, #PracticeTuesday, several weeks ago. There, lawyers respond to to a hosted thread every Tuesday on a specific topic related to improving their work.
Some counterintuitive advice I got from Judge Jacobs before I entered practice: Leave the office and take work with you! 1/ #PracticeTuesday
— David Ziff (@djsziff) January 25, 2017
Dan Epps (@danepps) and Ian Samuel (@isamuel), who host a podcast called “First Mondays” about the Supreme Court, have a following. Legal journalists, like those at ALM, Buzzfeed and David Lat of the Above the Law blog (@davidlat) tag into the conversation occasionally. Rick Hasen, a University of California, Irvine School of Law professor and blogger (@rickhasen), is another frequent #appellatetwitter presence.
The online community also has an ongoing debate that never seems to end, about word use, punctuation and formatting. “Writing briefs is 95 percent of what we do,” Steed said.
#AppellateTwitter nightmares: Filing brief in times new roman, 2 spaces after periods, headings in all caps, and case cites in footnotes.
— Alexander D Burch (@AlexanderDBurch) October 25, 2016
Trying a new font and spacing on a jury charge today. So excited to see how it prints and reads. Thanks, #appellatetwitter.
— Plain Error (@PlainError) November 17, 2016
Melkonian explained that the appellate bar self-selects for lawyers who are “exceptionally persnickety about words and text.” He keeps his own list of adverbs and other used words to strike from brief-writing in a public Google document pinned to his Twitter page for the community to use.
“Part of it is a self-referential joke, ‘Here we are talking about font sizes yet again,’” Gurvich said. “But people do have strong feelings.” Gurvich said, by the way, that she prefers Century Schoolbook font to Garamond.
Despite the debates—don’t even ask about whether citations should be footnotes or part of the main text of a brief—the tweeters remain collegial, even on political issues like the immigration ban before the Ninth Circuit.
“Appellate lawyers pride themselves in recognizing and acknowledging what is clearly correct, even when it isn’t what they want,” Steed said.
Several on Thursday night chimed in to help a more general public discover the hashtag and think through finer points of legal procedure.
Okay, #appellatetwitter, what’s it going to be out of CA9?
— RPBP (@rpbp) February 9, 2017
“This process seems to attract diligent, conscientious people of integrity. Why they are also kind and humorous, I can’t say, but they are.” Olsen said.
When the Marottas’ baby, Kevin Thomas, made it into the world Friday morning, he was greeted enthusiastically with replies of congratulations online.
— Sean Marotta (@smmarotta) February 10, 2017
Contact Katelyn Polantz at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @kpolantz