#appellatetwitter: Appellate Law Enthusiasts’ ‘Nerdy’ Forum

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By Melissa Heelan Stanzione

An estimated 400-500 tweeple interested in the “nitty gritty” of appellate practice have participated in #appellatetwitter on the social media service Twitter, an attorney who first used the hashtag told Bloomberg BNA.

#Appellatetwitter is a forum on Twitter dedicated to appellate law that began in June 2016.

Tweeple are people who use Twitter.

A hashtag is a way to organize topics on Twitter. It’s a word or phrase preceded by the hashtag symbol (#).

Raffi Melkonian, an attorney with Wright & Close LLP in Houston who uses the Twitter handle @RMFifthCircuit, said he coined the hashtag in June 2016 after a “bunch of appellate guys” got together in Washington D.C. Melkonian was “kind of jealous” because he couldn’t be there and so he tweeted about it.

Many Twitter users who follow the #appellatetwitter thread are appellate attorneys but it’s not exclusive to them, Melkonian said.

“We welcome all allied professions,” he said.

Contributors include law professors, law students, the Bar Association of the Fifth Federal Circuit and even legal reporters.

“I get that people see it as a club,” but it’s not, Jason P. Steed, an early contributor to the forum who uses the handle @5thCircAppeals, told Bloomberg BNA.

Steed is an attorney with Bell Nunnally in Dallas.

Not Members Only

There’s no “member list,” he said.

#Appellatetwitter is more about a topic of conversation “and less about a definable group of people,” Steed said.

Its most valuable aspect is that it’s a “huge resource for help with questions,” he said.

Appellate attorneys tend to be “eccentric” and interested in “nerdy topics,” Melkonian said.

“You can’t bother trial lawyer colleagues about some new wrinkle” in the federal appellate rules, he said.

#Appellatetwitter helps followers find “kindred spirits” around the country who enjoy the technique of law and want to discuss “the inner workings of how to get things in appellate courts,” Melkonian said.

Tweeple discuss a range of topics, including tips for brief writing, law firm life, and pet peeves in appellate practice.

Three-Fold Purpose

Kristen Vander-Plas (@KVPTexas), a Supreme Court of Texas clerk and #appellatetwitter contributor since August 2016, told Bloomberg BNA in an e-mail that the forum is for “entertainment, feedback, and advice/encouragement.”

“For me, it’s a place to gain mentors and get advice from more experienced attorneys,” Vander-Plas said.

To this end, she especially enjoys the #PracticeTuesday sessions, started by Sean Marotta (@smmarotta) and Rachel Gurvich (@RachelGurvich).

Marotta is an attorney with Hogan Lovells in Washington and Gurvich is an assistant law professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Law who teaches legal research, reasoning, writing and advocacy.

Vander-Plas’s favorite thread is one by Marotta entitled “Myths.”

The thread was a “mythbusting” of popular legal tips that #appellatetwitter contributors disagree with, along with the reasoning for their disagreement, Vanderplas said.

“I loved his reminder that you don’t have to learn everything about appellate work in law school,” she said.

It’s more important “to expose yourself to as many topics as possible because ‘you can’t research what you don’t know exists,’” Vander-Plas said, quoting his tweet.

‘Water-Cooler’ Experience

In addition to the practical advice she has received, Vander-Plas values the sense of camaraderie #appellatetwitter provides.

#Appellatetwitter is “a great community where you can unwind and not feel alone in your nerdiness,” she said.

“I’ve definitely gained genuine friendships,” Vander-Plas said.

She plans on meeting one anonymous poster, @LawProfBlawg, who is coming to Austin in January, to show him around.

Another appellate attorney who frequently posts but prefers to remain anonymous because of his work, agrees that #appellatetwitter serves dual work-related and social functions.

“It’s like having a water-cooler experience with several dozen people who are in a similar practice,” he said.

At a water cooler, some of the discussion is work related and some isn’t, and “there’s an openness to the things not necessarily work related,” he said.

However, “just by the very nature of the kinds of lawyers who end up in appellate practice, a lot of our outside interests are our inside interests,” he said.

The Mug

#AppellateTwitter has even developed merchandise.

Shortly after Melkonian coined the hashtag, and “probably spurred by some collegial discussion that had just occurred,” it was suggested “in jest” that #appellatetwitter t-shirts should be made, Steed said.

While recovering from minor surgery and laid up in bed, Steed decided to design the mugs, which he thought would be “easier than t-shirts, because no need to worry about various sizes,” he said.

Of course, it wasn’t that simple for a group of professionals who enjoy discussing minutiae.

There were the issues of font, font color, mug shape, and interior and exterior colors to decide.

#Appellatetwitter followers voted on the choices and decided on a black mug with a blue interior, a cylindrical shape, and with #AppellateTwitter written in white Century font.

“There are now 150 mugs spread across the country,” and even one that went to Norway, Steed said.

This was not a side business and Steed didn’t make a profit.

All the time he put into the project was “purely for the fun of it,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Melissa Heelan Stanzione in Washington at mstanzione@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jessie Kokrda Kamens at jkamens@bna.com

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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