An award-winning Manchester silk, Bill Braithwaite, has joined forces with software development company goldsixty7 to bring the first social media site for lawyers to the internet.
Known as Mootis, it has been funded by a conglomerate of private individuals and purports to allow lawyers to express themselves with more ‘authority, weight and substance’ than other more established platforms. Key to this expression are ‘moots’, posts of up to 500 words in length, rather than the more restrictive 140 characters permitted on Twitter. Like other such sites, users can upload photos, videos, blogs and audio files, but Mootis has a number of unique features. Each post has a nifty time estimation in the corner, showing roughly how long it will take to read. Moots can be ‘banked’ or saved to return to later, removing the need to scroll endlessly down the news feed to find that interesting post. Mootis allows users to create polls and surveys, and the results are already making waves. A recent survey asked whether users would be more likely to vote for the Conservative party in the 2015 general election if Chris Grayling were removed as Justice Secretary. Nearly 1200 people voted, with 82 per cent returning a yes vote. Although Mootis has no political affiliation, as an exercise in taking the temperature of the legal profession it is clear that the opinions that it can tap into have the potential to make it a useful tool to government think tanks and policy makers.
On a practical level, Mootis is straightforward to navigate. The layout is clean, at least when accessed through a computer, and will not be unfamiliar to anyone who is accustomed to using Twitter. Hash tags can be used and a side panel shows topics or people that are currently trending. There are fairly limited options for personalisation of the visual aspect, the news feed and profile pages, but as the emphasis is on content, this should not unduly trouble users. Use of the @ symbol allows ‘Mooters’ to mention each other and facilitate engagement- like Twitter it creates a direct link to the mentioned Mooter’s profile page and notifies them of the interaction. For social media novices, the Help Centre provides clear step-by-step guidance to getting started. If criticisms were to be made of any aspect of Mootis’ performance, then its mobile interface would be the place to start. It is clunky, unintuitive and appears not to have been optimised well for mobile devices. This issue is compounded by the lack of an app through which to access Mootis. These days, having to bookmark a social media website and access it through a mobile browser rather than a dedicated application feels positively medieval. Mootis assures us that an app is currently in development, and hopes to have it released soon.
The legal landscape too has experienced a paradigm shift over the last few years. The economic downturn, combined with an austerity program that has particularly targeted the justice system, has begun to re-sculpt the legal landscape. As chambers and solicitors’ firms close at an unprecedented rate, those lawyers that continue to practise are doing so in a radically different environment to that in which they qualified. The ability to adapt to the new environment that they find themselves in is critical to their success; a sizeable part of that adaptation is likely to be learning how to promote both themselves and their services on a digital network.
A conversation with Twitter stalwart, and new member of Mootis, Jeremy Hopkins (@Jezhop) provides an insight from the legal profession. An early adopter of social media, Jeremy joined Twitter around 2008, arguably the point at which the legal services market first began to feel the tremors that were to so affect the status quo. At that point the micro-blogging site was small, with a fledgling technologically-minded legal community enthusiastic to share their views on unfolding current events. Beginning at first with a network that consisted purely of lawyers, clerks and other such legal minds, over the last six years Jeremy has connected with journalists, academics, students and a myriad of individuals that have expanded his ideas and enriched his online experience. Jeremy’s following has built up organically, rather than the result of a deliberate marketing strategy, but is no less effective for that, for he has no doubt that it has given him opportunities that he would not have otherwise been exposed to. Jeremy’s work as a barristers’ clerk for several leading sets has undoubtedly informed his belief in the value of communication, as work in a referral industry just won’t to do, but he is careful to distinguish between genuine interactions and involvements in social media that are little more than a vanity exercise. Users that constantly promote themselves or a product without engaging in discussion are missing out on the true value of social media, he believes, as people truly thrive on human interaction, even if it is expressed on a digital platform.
With Jeremy’s background, it was entirely unsurprising to find him already on Mootis on the day of its launch. Professing to a small element of scepticism, he nevertheless thinks that Mootis has the potential to become something, if not useful, then at least interesting to the legal services market. Although there are those for whom social media is a comfortable environment, there are many others in the legal sector who feel that they may have missed the bandwagon. Jeremy sees Mootis as having the capacity to develop into a legal hub where all those with an interest in law can begin to explore and contribute to their own bespoke platform, regardless of their level of experience. He compares it to the early, exciting days of Twitter, when the fledgling legal community were experimenting with something entirely new, without quite knowing where it was going. That said, Jeremy reserves judgement on how much of a success Mootis is likely to be. He is interested in the concept, but the site is very much in its infancy, still fairly quiet and facing a tough battle to capture the increasingly precious commodity of users’ online time and attention span. The addition of a few high profile, respected “heavyweights” from the legal profession might make all the difference, particularly if they were not active on other social media platforms. This would enable Mootis to offer exclusive insight of genuine value and interest to users, resulting in sustainable engagement beyond the initial post-launch flurry. Alongside this, he also feels that improvement in the user interface will be necessary to bring it into line with the main platforms. The forthcoming app may resolve this.
While in the short term Mootis may be a stripped down and lean beast that the legal profession can make a clean start with, it remains to be seen whether it can keep itself free of the bloat and clutter that Braithwaite claims is corroding Twitter’s influence. Mootis has gained momentum through word of mouth initially as a social media site for lawyers, although closer inspection of their website shows that it sees itself as a network for ‘anyone interested in law’. In Bill Braithwaite’s own words, “Mootis is specifically tailored for what is a vast legal services marketplace – to other professional advisers, business owners, local authorities and even members of the public – legal issues impact on so many organisations and individuals”. There is little in modern life that doesn’t possess a legal angle; it may not take long for the success of this site to become that which strangles its original streamlined ambition.
Ultimately, the key to success for a social network is reciprocity. Users, particularly of professional networks, need to feel that they are gaining something from the investment of their time in social media, although that need not be the sort of return that has a quantifiable monetary value. The legal profession, over most others, is known for its collegiate nature and networks are vitally important. The networking that used to be dinners at the Inns, or late drinks in a local wine bar, has begun to catch up with the rest of society and such digital interactions are going to play a more prominent role. The old adage stands true- you get out of something what you put into it- and Mootis will be no exception.