Law Schools’ Fear of Social Media Is a Disservice to Students

Spending time at a law school allowed me to see something very disturbing; law students are actively and deliberately told by law schools to expunge all social media activity.

The clear message to students is: Do Not Have Any Web-Presence Whatsoever.

Given this message, it’s no wonder that most Canadian lawyers view social media with fear and take no part in it. It also explains the shocked looks when I asked my class to create Twitter and LinkedIn accounts – then use them for class participation. Oh the horror!

Imagine if I had asked them to create blogs!

In my view, the rationale behind this law school directive is wrong.

First, it assumes that all social media activity undertaken by students is inherently damaging to their career prospects. A massively wrong assumption. Not everyone posts pictures of themselves in a naked drunken stupor.

Second, it assumes that Canadian law firms undertake in depth social media searches of all students that they wish to hire – given the lack of social media savvy that I see at Canadian law firms, I find this assumption very hard to accept. I don’t believe that HR departments are sitting up late at night trolling through Goggle searches of potential students – they have much better things to do.

A much better approach would be advice which encourages students to create a positive social media/web footprint that is easy to find; one that displays knowledge, opinion, creativity and, **gasp** personality. Why not teach civility and good sense in social media rather than suggesting that it’s just too risky?

Deadening creativity, opinion and personality should not be the role of law schools.

In an increasingly competitive and globalized environment, where young lawyers will be asked to create unique client experiences, rather than simply competing on being the best – whatever the best means – law schools are doing their students a grave disservice with their advice to stay away from social media.

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Comments

  1. Deadening creativity, opinion and personality should not be the role of law schools

    Schools are probably worried about the effect this kind of thing might have on their students ability to get hired at the kind of firm I articled with. Public opinions were discouraged because any opinion is an opinion a potential client might disagree with. Better to say nothing at all than to say anything that might cause a potential client to go elsewhere.

    That was part of the reason I did not stay on as an associate at that firm.

  2. I had slim hope that things had changed in law schools over the years, but had no objective reason for believe so.

    This only helps demonstrate further that many of these career counselling positions are too focused on backwards-looking firms, and that they are not looking to the long-term prospects of their graduates. But it also makes sense that their most immediate interest is in ensuring that new grads get jobs.

    I think the blame is slightly misplaced here though because their views simply mirror what they hear in existing firms. If we want this advice to change, we have to have them thinking about the market and entrepreneurial opportunities. The problem with small and solo firms, even when created by their grads, is that there is far less sponsorship funds available.

    Which itself begs the further question over whether career counselling is more about securing funds or actually assisting students in their career prospects.

  3. Coming from a communications background before law school, I was taken aback at how old school the thinking was around social media & technology. It didn’t help that law profs could barely figure out how to turn on the monitor in a classroom – if they had a powerpoint, they thought they were way ahead of the curve.

    Social media is a tricky thing to navigate as a professional though – you don’t see many doctors blogging, tweeting or on linkedin. It would help if career offices and law schools got up to speed with the current reality of social marketing.

  4. I believe your post is using rather broad brush strokes to paint all institutions, you may have encountered that where you were. I had a conversation yesterday with one of our faculty members who is encouraging their students to use Twitter as part of the class evaluation and is finding that this a rare instance where the Law Faculty member is more versed in the use of this technology that the students.

  5. For the very reason that it is tricky, the law school should be teaching it. I have taught a course for two years now on Social Media in the Law to law students at two different schools. I have also integrated it into each of my law practice management and tech courses at law schools. The students do not understand all of the ethics issues that might come up so we focus on best practices. Even if they decide not to use social media, or limit it to just a couple applications, then they still need to understand how their clients are potentially communicating online with others, not to mention the use of social media in litigation and in the courtroom. In my course we start out learning how to start our own blog and then move on to cover Twitter, Google+, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and YouTube. They get hands-on experience, learn the culture of each and how to use them and by the end of the course are set up to go and have a social media use policy in their back pocket. I would love to see more law schools offering even just a one credit course in social media use. It’s only going to become more valuable.

  6. In fact why do law schools not teach courses in how to appropriately and effectively use social media in one’s practice and the dangers of inappropriate use. Marketing through social media is the way of the world. Unfortunately inappropriate use of social media can indeed be fatal to a career. Mitch much of what you say is right in this post but your thought that it is HR directors or their like who are checking social media is not really the point. Firms are now checking. In fact before interviewing I check and have others check obvious places like Facebook, Linked In etc. More importantly other students and young lawyers invariably check and eagerly pass on the anything interesting unfortunately especially the “bad stuff”. If a purpose of law school is to educate young lawyers then how can this not be part of the education. Simply saying don’t do it is not only naive but fails the students

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