Sunday, May 26, 2024

How Legal Twitter (RIP) became a source of legal talent and eventually filed suit against Elon

John Leland, How a Profane Joke on Twitter Spawned a Legal Army, NYTimes, May 26, 2024.

This is a fascinating story about what was once Legal Twitter (now dispersed under the Musk dispensation) became a focused source of legal talent I've collected a few passages. It begins with Akiva Cohen, a New York trial lawyer who liked to hang out on Legal Twitter.

How it began in confluence of different cultures:

Posts about legal cases on Twitter, which is now called X, typically draw little participation from non-lawyers. Mr. Mignogna’s case was something different.

“It triggered this avalanche of people who were fans of Vic Mignogna, who came in looking to defend Vic’s honor,” Mr. Cohen said. Some waged harassment and threat campaigns against Mr. Mignogna’s accusers and other women who had criticized him.

Mr. Cohen, joined by other lawyers on the thread, started to gleefully dismantle Mr. Beard’s legal arguments, sniping alternately at him, Mr. Mignogna and Mr. Mignogna’s supporters. “And it just sort of exploded from there,” Mr. Cohen said.

Comments on the thread piled up — a thousand, two thousand, five thousand. One lawyer claimed his cellphone got so many notifications that it thawed a frozen burrito in his briefcase.

Someone decided the thread needed a name. Thus was christened the Threadnought.

“It was kind of at the intersection of different cultures,” said Ken White, a California lawyer and titan of legal Twitter who posts as PopeHat. “You’ve got the anime culture, and then you’ve got this online troll culture, and then you’ve got law Twitter culture. And they intersected with spectacular results.”

Kathryn Tewson:

One of the Threadnought’s fiercest voices belonged to Kathryn Tewson, a self-described “unemployed housewife,” with no legal training but a gift for argument. She had her own reasons for jumping on the thread.

“I don’t like bullies and I don’t like fraud,” she said from her home outside Seattle. “I saw a bunch of people harassing and bullying the women who were the target of this lawsuit. And that just did not sit well with me.”

Ms. Tewson, 49, entered the fray with undisguised relish.

“I love fighting on the internet,” she said, almost chuckling. “I have loved fighting on the internet almost since there was an internet to fight on.” [...]

Ms. Tewson started to privately question Mr. Cohen and another lawyer, Dylan Schmeyer, about defamation law, so she could make better arguments. Mr. Cohen was impressed.

“She was astoundingly quick to pick up and understand legal concepts, ferociously curious and intelligent, quick on her feet and good with words, and excellent at asking the right questions — over and over and over again,” Mr. Cohen said. On the thread he tweeted: “Kathryn, are you sure you don’t want to go to law school so I can hire you?”

One problem: She did not have a college degree. “So Akiva said, ‘Would you go to paralegal school?’” she recalled. Mr. Cohen told her that when she finished, he would either hire her or make sure someone else did.

So she went.

She became his second hire. Realizing that

amid the trash talk and snark, the Threadnought offered a rare look into how other lawyers’ minds worked, how they broke down cases or constructed arguments. It was much more revealing, he figured, than looking at a lawyer’s résumé or law school background. Plus, he saw that they cared enough to do this analysis for free, in their spare time.

His first was Dylan Schmeyer in Colorado. There was no intention to build a virtual litigation team, but in time, that's what happened. The Mignogna suit was eventually dismissed and the Threadnought lawyers turned their attention to suits stemming from the 2020 presidential election, producing what became known as the Litigation Disaster Tours.

One reader of these Disaster threads was Don McGowan, who was the general counsel for Bungie, a video game company based near Seattle.

Bungie had a problem. People were selling software that enabled players to cheat at the company’s popular game Destiny 2, which ruined the game for those who chose to play by the rules. Bungie wanted to sue. The cases would require a lawyer who could explain technical details in terms a jury could understand.

Mr. McGowan thought Mr. Cohen’s Twitter dissections did just that. “I said, ‘Wow, if he’s this able to make this nonsense comprehensible, he must be so good in front of a jury,’” Mr. McGowan said. He retained Mr. Cohen to handle the case.

Mr. Cohen’s reaction: “‘You’re joking, right?’ Like, that’s not a thing that happens.”

In the Bungie case, the lawyers applied a novel use of federal racketeering law. They won a $16 million judgment and established that sellers of cheat codes could be criminally prosecuted for copyright infringement and money laundering. It brought them attention and more business.

With the added case work, Mr. Cohen needed another lawyer. Again he turned to the people he had met through Twitter. Mike Dunford, a Threadnought regular, was finishing a Ph.D. program in copyright law and planning to enter academia. Like Mr. Schmeyer, he had virtually no legal experience — in fact, no interest in practicing law. But he knew a lot about intellectual property and copyright law, areas where Mr. Cohen was getting work. [...]

Mr. Cohen, who before the Threadnought had barely enough cases to keep himself busy, soon expanded his team to six lawyers and three support staff members — all working virtually; all but one he had met through Twitter.

It was a ridiculous way to build a litigation team. But it made a kind of sense, said David Lat, who founded the legal website Above the Law and now writes the newsletter Original Jurisdiction.

“On the one hand, a lot of people would think you’re just hiring a bunch of randos you met online,” Mr. Lat said. “On the other hand, what he has been doing is weirdly meritocratic. Instead of hiring people based on where they went to law school, which is how a lot of legal hiring is done, he’s hiring based on seeing how people think and write in real time and under pressure. I think it’s gutsy, but it seems to be working for him.”

Meanwhile, Elon Musk and purchased Twitter and dismissed many employees. Many complained that they were getting proper severance pay. Lauren Pringle, a legal journalist who edits Chancery Daily, knew some of these people and sent them to Cohen and Tewson.

Soon, Mr. Cohen and his small team, all scattered around the country — in Hawaii, Colorado, Washington State, Long Island — were representing more than 200 former Twitter employees in two lawsuits and arbitration. The cases involved mountains of work against an adversary with seemingly bottomless resources, with no money coming in unless or until they prevail.

Those cases are ongoing. And, as a result of Twitter's transformation into X, Legal Twitter is no more.

You should read the whole thing.

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