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Vatican a role model on social media for legal profession


I am on an American Bar Aossociation (ABA) panel about social media next week. Three of the four other panelists do not use social media. No blogging, Twitter or Facebook.

The panel is on the ethics of social media, but I don’t see that as a reason to proclaim, almost as a badge of honor, that “like most of the audience, I am a neophyte when it comes to these things.” (I expect many in the audience to be using social media)

Maybe this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Despite social media providing lawyers and our profession an opportunity to connect with people, the ABA’s leaders have not done a good job in serving as personal role models in their use of social media.

This morning, the Archbishop of Brisbane, Mark Coleridge (@archbishopmark), wrote that “Social media will shape the upcoming Vatican lll.”

Archbishop Coleridge was elected last year to represent the Australian bishops at the second of the two Synods (assembly of clergy) on marriage and the family. Before he left for Rome, he was asked if he’d be willing to do a blog during the Synod.

To the Archbishop’s surprise, the blog became big — fast.

What I didn’t expect was that the blog would get so big; in fact it went global. I didn’t see that coming and I didn’t understand it at the time. I still don’t understand it fully. But what I can see is that the blog gave a lot of people – even some journalists – a sense of what the Synod was actually like from within.

The Archbishop discovered that through social media the Vatican’s work became relevant to the masses.

The Synod might be “of bishops” but it couldn’t be just “for bishops”. Others had to be part of the journey somehow.


Seen from the outside, Synods can look tedious and dull, even a Synod as keenly anticipated as this one. But seen from the inside, Synods are anything but tedious or dull. They are seriously hard work, but they are also very interesting events, full of rich characters and revealing glimpses of the Church as it really is around the world. They have their dramas and surprises, especially with someone like Pope Francis in the chair.

One thing I tried to do in the blog was show the human face of the Synod, in the belief that a demystification of what was happening wouldn’t diminish the Synod. It’s not unlike what Pope Francis is doing with the papacy. His demystification of the office hasn’t diminished it; in fact, it’s probably, and paradoxically, done the opposite.

For me, a demystification of the Synod was the first step in showing others that there was “something greater than Solomon” at work in the assembly, which was certainly my experience.

Archbishop Coleridge sees social media making the members of the Church and its leaders one. Blogging and social media has brought members of the church into the meetings of the clergy.

As I see it now, the line between Synod and blog is blurred; and there’s a theological point to this. In the Synod process, the line of demarcation between the bishops and the rest of the Church has blurred, and social media has been a big part of that.

One reason why Vatican II was different from any preceding council was the presence of the media. One thing that will be different about the next ecumenical council – whenever and wherever that may be – will be the integral part played by social media in making the council a gathering not just of the bishops, but of the whole Church.

How are lawyers and leaders of the ABA using social media to make the law not just about lawyers, but about the people we serve? Does the president or executive director of the ABA blog about what transpires in board and other meetings so as to include all lawyers and the public at large?

The lawyers on my panel certainly are not going to blog or share on social media the information shared and the discussion that resulted from our panel. They cannot connect with lawyers outside the room nor the public who may be interested in how lawyers feel constrained in using social media because of ethics rules.

I am not suggesting for a minute that our profession take on social media as a religious experience or a church. I am suggesting that leaders in our profession, which could include any lawyer, ought to be looking to use social media to make lawyers and the legal system revelant to people.

Lawyers and the ABA talk a good game when it comes to making the law and lawyers accessible to average Americans. They even put in a lot of time working on the problem. It seems time though to adapt to the present, as opposed to clinging onto the known and the past.

The Pope is a perfect example of what a leader can do today. As the Washington Post’s Michelle Boorstein (@mboorstein) penned last year, Pope Francis became a social media star before the Vatican was even ready.

Pope Francis has been regular user of Twitter for three years and just started using Instagram.

I doubt leaders in the church boast of not using social media as was the case of the lawyer on my panel. Imagine if we were hearing stories of how prolific leaders of the ABA, state bar associations and the judiciary are in their use of social media. Lawyers would not only feel less afraid of using social media, they’d feel left behind if they were not using social media.

I like what the Church is doing. I wish I could say the same for leaders in the law.