Today we’re talking about how law students can use social media to market themselves while still in school, and get a jump on the competition!
Without further ado, let’s get to it.
Alison: You’re quite active in social media, and on the internet (with the LOMAP blog, Twitter, etc.). I’m a law student who’s not that familiar with all these social media options, but I want to learn more. Can you suggest some resources to get me started? At a minimum, I’d like to start a Twitter account, set up an effective LinkedIn profile, and start blogging.
I think that the question is answered differently depending on the age of the law student, since generational differences have a significant effect on how attorneys use social media.
For younger law students, say 2010 college graduates, who are now in law school, there is very little that they need to know about how to engage in social media, and over the internet; however, those folks need to develop a business acumen to go along with their innate facility for online communication, and to temper their online personae for a wider audience than their college alumni friends and law school classmates, who happen to attend the same keg parties.
For older law students, who have (usually) worked some, and who have developed something of a business acumen, or have, at least, gained some knowledge of the business world, the training required is in the opposite channel; and, these folks have to figure out how to use social media/networking, and to do so in a way that presents as natural.
For both of these classes of law student, there is some significant advantage to lurking. ‘Lurking’ has acquired a negative connotation as respects internet usage.
But I think that lurking is an effective method of gaining information about how to utilize social media services in a professional manner, before putting yourself (completely) out there.
Younger law students will be seeking out attorneys (ideally — although, other professionals can be effective teachers in this realm, as well) who use social media effectively and professionally (with an emphasis on the latter), to see how that’s done. Older law students will be seeking out attorneys (again, ideally) who use social media effectively and professionally (with an emphasis on the former), to see how that’s done.
Look Before You Leap
Of course, the obvious question is: ‘How do I know which attorneys are presenting effective and professional faces via social media/the internet?’ Well, it’s sort of like what Potter Stewart said about defining obscenity: that he knew it when he saw it. And, part of the learning curve here is figuring out what ‘it’ is.
In addition to observing what other attorneys/law firms do in social media/on the web, and trying to copy styles that appear to be most effective, and improve upon, or dismiss, what is not effective, there are a number of blogs providing useful information with respect to social media/the web, particularly: Mashable, Social Media Today, Social Media Examiner, PC World, Tech Republic — of course, this is not an exhaustive list: there are many others.
While older law school students may access these sites for more basic tips; younger law students may utilize these sites to gain higher-level tips, or to tweak whatever existing methods they use to access/engage social media/the web.
(This is not to say, of course, that there are not a significant number of older law students who will be tech savvy. I know a number of older attorneys, in fact, who are on the cutting edge when it comes to using technology and social media. However, the ways in which older students and younger students utilize technology, especially social networking online, are inherently differently; younger students, having grown up with the technology platforms that are now generally in vogue, have a profound, almost instinctive, understanding of how to use these tools that older students can never possess.)
How to Get Started
I think that the methodology suggested in your question: to start out by establishing a LinkedIn account, a Twitter account, and a blog, is a good one.
However, I would add that law students should consider professionalizing their Facebook pages, as well. Facebook is the most-visited website in the world; and, at LOMAP, our Facebook page hits far outweigh visits to our website. I think that, when you’re talking about engaging these services, as a law student, that this can be viewed as a process:
- LinkedIn is probably the easiest entry point, because it is essentially an online résumé, and because the ability to engage on LinkedIn is limited, beyond the Groups functionality. I think that every law student should have a LinkedIn account, because it’s an easy way to get your résumé online, and because savvy employers will look to the profile to find something out about the student, as a potential employee. If the law student can keep the profile fresh by making status updates and contributing to some groups, from time-to-time, that can make the student’s ‘living’ résumé more effective, and will clearly show engagement in subject matters that interest the student . . . and potential employers. If the law student knows what he or she wants to do upon graduation, if a practice niche has been determined, then the student can focus his or her comments and information disbursement in those areas, in order to establish interests and acumen in advance of formally beginning his or her career.
- Twitter, I think, is also an easy entry point for law students; and, in the beginning, it’s far easier to establish a Twitter feed than it is a LinkedIn account. In opposition to the process for creating a LinkedIn account, the real time-consuming part of Twitter is continually sourcing and publishing useful information in your areas of interest; but, even then, with scheduling tools, and Twitter management applications, like HootSuite, it becomes easier to manage a profile than you might think, or than it might appear if you’ve only heretofore used the rigid Twitter.com site. While services like Twitter are extremely popular, these social media outlets are still very much virgin territory for attorneys (the percentage of attorneys on Twitter is still low), such that law students can become active, and acquire reputations in a relatively uncrowded field, all while using a program that they may be uniquely suited to operate. Neither is this unprecedented: Rex Gradeless, now an attorney, while in law school, developed an extremely popular Twitter account, during the infancy period of Twitter’s establishment. Jason Tenenbaum is attempting a modern version of this gambit — and doing a nice job, in my opinion.
- Blogging is probably the most time-intensive of all of the options referenced. To do it right, you have to be consistent, both with respect to your message and with respect to producing regularly recurring postings. The shadow consideration underlying everything that I have said in answer to this question is that future lawyers need not wait to graduate law school to begin to market themselves as entities, to showcase themselves for potential employers, or to create something of a track record of who they will become as attorneys, for future potential clients to review, as a deeper look at where they came from, with the whole packaged online development perhaps ending up making the difference, at least initially, in who those future potential clients choose to hire. While law students cannot blog in the same way that practicing attorneys do, they can create a reputation for themselves based on those things that they can blog about: their legal subject interests, case notes/reviews, life as a law student, preparations for practice, and etc.
It’s one thing to be a content aggregator (taking others’ useful content, and pushing it out through your social media channels); but, it’s another thing entirely to be a content producer — that’s where you really make your bones, and that’s when other people start pushing your content for you.
If you can create and effectively disseminate your own content, you will tag yourself as a specialist, rather than affirming someone else’s expertise.
(When I use terms like ‘expert’ and ‘specialist’, and their derivations, I am not talking about specialty in a legal practice area, or areas — mostly because law students are not authorized to practice law, so they’re not allowed to specialize in any area of practice. I am, rather, talking about settling on a subject matter, or matters, and talking about those exclusively, in order to develop your reputation within a certain sphere. This will be good practice for starting a law firm, or starting in practice, because attorneys, especially new attorneys, must be very careful about what they say respecting their fields of practice.)
The question, after you develop a content pipeline (even if that content pipeline is solely made up of your regular blog posts), is how to disseminate that content. And if you’ve created and updated a Twitter account, and if you’ve created and updated a LinkedIn profile, you’ve got two dedicated streams to which you can post your content, even if it posts nowhere else. Merely, then, by completing two social media service profiles, and updating those with your blog posts and related information, even a law student can create his or her own dedicated marketing engine.
Start Marketing Yourself In School
There are two important considerations that tend to solidifying the argument for law students’ beginning to market themselves in a professional manner while still in law school:
- In an uber-competitive environment, both with respect to job finding and with respect to the establishment of a solo, or small firm, any advantage that a law student can gain over his or her competitors in the job market, or for the eventual acquirement of business, can be an important jumping-off point for a successful career.
- In a very real sense, every attorney is a solo attorney, because every attorney needs to develop, and expand, a book of business.
Obviously, solo and small firm attorneys must acquire and maintain clients in order to keep the lights on; but, even attorneys who are employed by law firms must develop clients with connections personal to them, and not just the firm. If an associate attorney is desirous of making partner at a firm where he or she is employed, it helps to show some marketing prowess, right from the start; and, if the sought-after partnership is actually realized, it now becomes imperative that the new partner attorney become a rainmaker — and, it’s far better to be prepared for the eventuality, rather than having to start from scratch to develop a personalized client list.
In a volatile economy, especially as it relates to law firms, and in the case where an associate attorney is laid off, before reaching a partnership position, it is far better for that attorney to have a book of business to transfer (to a solo, or small firm, practice, or to another firm), than, again, to be forced to build a client base from scratch, because all of the clients that that attorney worked with felt that their relationship was with and their loyalty was due to the attorney’s employer, and not personally to the departing attorney.
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Thanks, Jared! Fantastic information.
If you missed the first part of this interview, check out: Thinking of Starting a Solo Law Practice? Avoid These Traps for the Unwary, where Jared shares critical tips for avoiding ethical infractions in your new solo practice!
Stay tuned for part three, coming soon.
In the meantime, check out my manifesto: Why Every Law Student Should Be On Twitter.
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