Some Judicial Opinions Require Only 140 Characters

Justice Don Willett of the Texas Supreme Court Lights Up Twitter

To judge by his Twitter feed, Don Willett seems like an all-around solid guy: native Texan, proud conservative, three charming kids, loves Blue Bell ice cream and Baylor football, skilled at selfies, and not above the occasional lowbrow joke.

He is also a justice of the Texas Supreme Court, the highest civil court in the state.

Most judges are temperamentally and occupationally averse to unrobed public utterances of any kind. Scrolling through Justice Willett’s voluminous output, on the other hand, one might forget that his day job is writing opinions that could end up before the United States Supreme Court.

Since joining Twitter in 2009, Justice Willett, who is 48, has written more than 12,800 tweets. That doesn’t put him anywhere near the most prolific Twitter users, but, by his own reckoning, it does make him “probably the most avid judicial tweeter in America — which is like being the tallest munchkin in Oz.”

His tweets are a mix of family outings (“Daddy-Daughter breakfast dates are THE BEST!”), oblique political commentary (“When it comes to legislating from the bench — I literally can’t even”), savvy cultural references and good-natured sports talk. His humor is sometimes corny and often funny. A tweet on Sept. 8 included a photo of two federal judges enduring oral argument, one half-asleep and the other apparently picking his nose, with the caption: “This is why some judges (not me) resist cameras in the courtroom.”

Read the full New York Times article here.

Texas Supreme Court Justice tweets from the hip

Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett likes to Tweet, and he's gaining followers at a rapid pace, now that the New York Times has provided a critique of his lively Twitter feed.

Willett's 12,000 or so Tweets to date are largely unobjectionable (pun intended; puns appear to be a favorite form or humor on @JusticeWillett), and demonstrates Willett's sense of fun. His sense of what comprises justice is largely left open to interpretation, though he seems to think the Times opinion piece on his Twitter presence was fair:

LEFT—when you hear the @nytimes is writing an editorial about you RIGHT—when it turns out ok

— Justice Don Willett (@JusticeWillett) September 30, 2014

The American Bar Association, the Times notes, has said using social media can be a valuable tool for jurists, but the newspaper wonders if it is unseemly to read a jurist admitting, jokingly, that he "likes big bundts and I cannot lie"(a reference to Willett's affinity for cakes and the lyrics to Sir Mix-a-Lot's racy hit song "Baby Got Back.") 

I like big bundts & I cannot lie.

— Justice Don Willett (@JusticeWillett) September 8, 2013

Willett comes down in favor of the benefits of judicial tweets:

Social media is an unmatched tool to demystify & humanize the judiciary—& to intersect w/ fascinating people from every corner of America.

— Justice Don Willett (@JusticeWillett) October 1, 2014

But more typical tweets are funny bordering on corny, and stay in safe territory for a member of the highest court in the Lone Star State (whether the image of a Texas Justice sporting a fake mustache and viking helmet is for the voters of Texas to decide):

Henceforth, I shall require a fun photo booth at all weddings I officiate.

— Justice Don Willett (@JusticeWillett) September 28, 2014

Just ran into @McConaughey in Austin. So awkward. I don't think he even recognized me. #AlrightAlrightAlright

— Justice Don Willett (@JusticeWillett) September 26, 2014

When I slip into legalese or legal nerd mode, my non-lawyer friends be like . . .

— Justice Don Willett (@JusticeWillett) September 25, 2014

But he does risk allegations of bias: if anyone has a case before the Texas Supreme Court that pits them against Dr Pepper or Blue Bell ice cream-- treats mentioned frequently, and longingly, in Willett's tweets-- they could rightfully wonder whether they can get a fair hearing.

That new noise record by Chiefs fans will be short-lived if @HEB is out of my favorite Blue Bell tomorrow!

— Justice Don Willett (@JusticeWillett) October 1, 2014

And, if Willett seeks to humanize himself before the public, does he not show a concerning lack of compassion for Saints fans, or at least defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, after their drubbing by the Dallas Cowboys? Then again, he is an elected judge. In Texas.

The dramatic range of Saints Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan. #NOvsDAL #Cowboys

— Justice Don Willett (@JusticeWillett) September 29, 2014

You can also read the New Orleans Times-Picayune article here.

Tweeting #Justice

How a campaign strategy transformed into a can’t-miss online presence.

Whether he’s quoting historical figures, commenting on current events, or cracking jokes, Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett has quite the following on Twitter. By balancing work and personal life, Willett’s digital connection with the public sets a precedent for other officials. Keeping a 140-character limit in mind, he answers questions about his social media successes.

How long have you had your account?
I signed up in Oct ’09 but didn’t send my 1st tweet until Feb ’10. I tweeted only sporadically until my 2012 reelection campaign ramped up.

Why did you join Twitter?
Mainly as a campaign comm tool. People consume info online, esp political info. It’s political malpractice not to engage via social media.

You’ve tweeted more than 6,400 times. Were those all directly from you, or do you have a helper?
For better or worse, it’s 100% me, which I think people find refreshing & authentic.
(It’s tough to believe I’ve tweeted that much, though.)

What comments do people have about your use of Twitter?
Many folks (mis)describe me as the most interesting public official on Twitter—a bar so low it’s subterranean. I keep it light & positive.

Who are you most excited to say follows you?
I was amped to get a follow & RT from @HonestToddler, a Twitter celebrity who
observes the world thru the eyes of a witty, tech-savvy tot.

Name three people everyone on Twitter should follow.
Besides me? Ace historian Michael Beschloss (@BeschlossDC). The genius
observations of @HonestToddler. And for sports junkies, @TheFakeESPN.

Who do you RT the most?
Probably prez historian Michael Beschloss. Fascinating trove of historical tidbits & exquisite photos—nuggets you won’t find anywhere else.

How can an attorney benefit from Twitter?
Follow incisive folks across a range of views & areas—just to learn & laugh. As for boosting biz, info can ricochet fruitfully online.

Let’s say I don’t have an account. Tell me why I should get one.
To stay abreast of warp-speed happenings in the world & enjoy the musings of
smart, fascinating people. Follow, even if you don’t tweet.

You’re active on Facebook. Which platform do you prefer?
I enjoy both, but the quantity & content differs. FB = more personal & family-focused. Twitter = more current events & newsy, & more often.

What’s your favorite thing about Twitter?
It’s a neat, one-stop compilation of smart, funny & interesting viewpoints on every imaginable topic from a riveting cross-section of folks.

Is there anything that frustrates you about it?
The sometimes knee-jerk nastiness & incivility, especially on political matters. I don’t mind snark, if delivered w/ intelligence & wit.

You have more than 3,100 followers. Why do you think people follow you?
It’s rare for a Supreme Court Justice to step out from behind the bench. Folks are surprised that it’s comedic, authentic & informative.

Do you have a strategy to get followers?
I don’t pay to “promote” my tweets as some pols do. I want to earn actual, engaged followers the old-fashioned way: w/ compelling content.

How do you balance work and play on your account?
Unsuccessfully. When day job calls, I’m laser-locked. But it’s a fun diversion when you have a few mins 2 spare. Content-wise, I mix it up.

What rules do you have for your account?
I don’t discuss issues that could appear before me or throw partisan sharp elbows. I strive to keep things witty, informative & interesting.

What goes through your mind before you hit “Tweet?”
Usually, did I misspell or mis-grammatize anything? But also, is this worth polluting the Interwebs w/ for posterity, & will my wife wince.

Have you ever regretted or deleted a tweet?
Succinctness = enemy of nuance. It’s tough 2 be precise in 140 chars, so conveying tone/nuance is tough. I self-censor & try to be careful.

What are some of the most important Twitter rules of etiquette to remember?
My paramount rule: keep things civil. Once I tweeted, “Pro tip: Be nice.” Also, engage others. Master Twitter; don’t let Twitter master you.

Have you ever had to deal with trolls?
I’ve only blocked 1 person, who committed the cardinal sin of saying rude things about my sainted mother. Nobody disses heroic Mama Doris!

How many tweets a day is too many?
I don’t follow folks who tweet w/ every breath. The volume is paralyzing. I tweet maybe 10-20x/day. It varies & depends on what’s happening.

Select tweets from Willett’s feed

I think Edward Snowden could’ve walked a red panda through the Capitol Rotunda tonight & nobody would’ve noticed. #txlege

I recently rec’d this note from a 4th grader: "I watched your Court webcast to help me fall asleep and it worked!" #SCOTX cc: @atlblog

“Live Gluten Free or Die Hard” #AddaWordRuinaMovie

You can also read the full article from here.

The FastCase50

The Fastcase 50 for 2014 highlights entrepreneurs, innovators, and trailblazers — people who have charted a new course for the delivery of legal services. In law firms with new delivery models, legal tech startups, and even inside some of the nation’s largest law firms and legal publishers, these pioneers are giving the world a first look at what’s next for law and technology. It was hard to top the Fastcase 50 classes of 2011, 2012 and 2013— but with another record number of nominees, we had some great choices. We’re very happy to introduce the Fastcase 50 Class of 2014.

Justice Don Willett
Justice, Supreme Court of Texas

Justice Don Willett has a gold-clad resume: twice-elected Justice of the Texas Supreme Court, former White House Director of Law and Policy, Clerk on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals after he earned a J.D.-M.A. at Duke. But Justice Willett built his career on a foundation of hard work. His parents never graduated from high school, and growing up in a 35-person town in Texas, he worked to support his family after his father passed away. As a kid, he competed in rodeos and was a professional drummer. Today he’s one of America’s top jurists, as well as author of one of the wittiest Twitter accounts, with broad-ranging commentary on law, politics, and culture.

See the entire fastcase 50 here.

50 Twitter Accounts Lawyers Should Follow Religiously (Part II)

Last week, I made a very big list (subscribe here) of thirty Twitter accounts that every lawyer, legal professional, and law student should follow. Topics include the Supreme Court, legal news, law and technology, humor, and general blawging. I also promised that twenty more would follow, once I heard from the Tweeps. (Twopulace? Twopulation? Twyers?)

The rules for the list remain the same: no multiples from the same company, unless they are have distinct identities and voices. General topics get the nod over specialty handles.

Justice Don Willett @JusticeWillett

A Texas Supreme Court judge on Twitter? And he's apparently a former drummer and rodeo bull rider? What happened to boring, stodgy, humorless judges? Are they all this hilarious?


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