Why Every Law Student Should Be on Twitter

TwitterI’ll admit that I didn’t initially “get” Twitter. Friends had been telling me to sign up for years, but it seemed like a waste of time. When I launched The Girl’s Guide website, I pretty much had to set up an account, because there’s a “Follow me on Twitter” button at the top of every page. (Suffice it to say my designer put it there without asking me. I didn’t notice until it was too late to take it down.)

For the first few weeks, I still didn’t see the point. I posted a few links, got some (very random) followers, and not much happened. Then, suddenly, the light bulb went on — Twitter is the best thing ever!

Every law student should have an account.

What Changed My Mind?

I saw the light for two reasons:

  • One, people I didn’t know started to get in touch with me
  • Two, I realized there was a ton of great stuff on there, which I could share with other people

Understandably, you might be thinking:

Sure, it’s fine for you to have a Twitter account — you run a website. But I don’t need one — I’m just a law student! No one needs to know about me. Who do I have to share anything with anyway?

This thinking is misguided.

Why Twitter is Valuable for Law Students

Twitter is valuable for law students for several reasons:

  1. It’s an amazing way to meet people
  2. It allows you to (very rapidly) build a reputation as an “expert” in your specific niche
  3. It exposes you to new and useful ideas, carefully curated by someone who knows more than you do
  4. It gives you an instant “gut check” about what you truly find interesting
  5. It allows you to surround yourself with helpful, supportive people, who are doing what you want to eventually do
  6. It’s fun!

Let’s talk about these in more detail.

Twitter is a Great Way to Meet People

Twitter is a great way to “meet” people, either directly, or via their work.

Meeting People Directly
There’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to personally meet every super-famous person that you’d like to be introduced to (although it might happen). But I can pretty much guarantee that you’ll meet people who share your interests, that you would never otherwise have met.

In many cases, those people will reach out to you. In other cases, you’ll follow them and find you have something relevant and helpful to add to their conversation. If you’re truly helpful, it won’t take long for people to notice you exist. Presto — new relationship!

Meeting People Through Their Work
Different, but equally valuable, is the opportunity to surround yourself with interesting, helpful people who are doing the sort of work you eventually want to do. Unlike Facebook or LinkedIn, where you need to know the person you want to connect with and get their permission to be connected, you can “follow” anyone you want to hear from on Twitter.

It doesn’t matter that they’ve never heard of you — you can still get the benefit of their Tweets.

In her fantastic book Finding Your Own North Star, Martha Beck talks about the universal Everybody. This is a voice you carry in your head, which tells you that “No one ever gets a clerkship from this school,” or “There’s no way you can start your own law practice right out of law school,” or whatever. It’s basically designed to bash your dreams, and probably sounds a little bit like that teacher you were frightened of in second grade.

It’s worth reading the book to see what Beck has to say, but the short version is that you can replace the negative Everybody in your head by surrounding yourself with more supportive messages. Twitter is great for this!

Say you’re interested in pursuing a type of law that isn’t common among graduates of your law school. When you talk to people at school about it, they’re either entirely clueless, or actively discouraging. I’m willing to bet there are people on Twitter who not only do what you want to do, they actively Tweet about it — probably to a whole community of people who do the same thing.

The power of this sort of network is hard to overstate. Even if you never meet a single one of these people in person, just knowing that they’re out there, doing what you want to eventually do, is a huge motivator. And, chances are good that you’ll eventually get to join the group, if you hang around long enough.

Twitter Helps You Figure Out What You’re Truly Interested In

Another great aspect of Twitter is that it helps you figure out what you’re truly interested in (not what you think you’re interested in, or what you should be interested in).

This comes about when you start selecting people to follow. Once you’ve found one account you want to follow, you can look at other accounts that are similar. For example, here’s the list of sites that Twitter thinks are similar to The Girl’s Guide to Law School.

If you click on the name of anyone in that list, you’ll get their three latest Tweets in the sidebar.

Those three Tweets are enough to tell you if you want to follow the person. What? Don’t we need more information? No. The entire point is to make a snap judgment. Are you interested in what they posted? If so, follow them. If not, move on.

What’s useful about this process is that it pretty quickly shows you what you’re not interested in.

For me, it turns out I’m bored by streams about recently decided cases, even if they’re curated by very prominent members of the legal profession. Similarly, most law school and law professor streams bore me, as do most mainstream legal publications. Should I be interested in these things? Probably, but I’m not! So I don’t follow them.

What I am interested in, as it turns out, is a motley mix of legal innovators, tech/startup people, girl power proponents, business blogs, and life-design experts. Your mix will be totally different, but that’s precisely why Twitter is so powerful.

Twitter Allows You to Be an Expert

Anyone on Twitter can become an expert, in their specific niche.

You’re already in law school, so that’s two potential components of your stream right there (law student, member of the legal profession).

What else do you like?

  • Are you interested in tech law? Add technology, startup culture, and some IP law content
  • Are you thinking about construction law? Add “law for architects,” “architecture for lawyers,” and the latest development news in your area
  • Are you considering family law? Add child development news, tips on mediating a divorce, etc.

Your combination of topics will be different from anyone else, and that’s exactly the point.

No one is a “lawyer” today. You’re a specific type of lawyer, and one of your jobs is to bring together the different worlds that you work in. Presumably your followers will eventually match your content, more or less. What an opportunity! If half the people reading your Tweets are business people and half are lawyers, and you’re talking about both worlds, you add value all around.

Twitter Exposes You to Fantastic Content

Let’s face it, the Internet is huge. There’s no way you can stay on top of everything.

Let your new Twitter contacts curate for you. Say you have five minutes before class starts. Sure, you could play Solitaire, but why not open your Twitter stream? In a couple of minutes, you’ll be able to skim through the news of the day and lots of interesting articles.

Is 90% of it useless to you? Maybe, but 10% isn’t. Read (and reTweet) that 10%. (This is also another opportunity for a “gut check” about what you enjoy learning.)

Twitter’s Norms Make It Pleasant

If you’ve ever spent any time in the Above the Law comments section (or on any number of other law school sites), Twitter might be a welcome change. Naturally some nasty things are said, but there are norms in place to encourage politeness.

First, almost everything happens in public. Unless you send a direct message, what you post will be publicly accessible, and not just to your followers (unless your account is locked so that only your followers can see what you post). The idea that anyone in the entire world could see what you’re about to post seems to be a good deterrent for really mean behavior.

Second, it’s not uncommon for people to thank you for sharing their content. If you reTweet something, you’ll often get a message saying thanks! It’s quite lovely, and really encourages people to behave nicely towards one another.

Finally, I think most people on Twitter genuinely want to be helpful. If you ask a question, odds are someone will answer it. If someone posted a link, it’s probably because they thought other people would want to read it. (Naturally, there’s some shameless self-promotion, but not as much as you might expect.)

I’m Convinced. How Do I Get Started?

It’s super easy to get started on Twitter. Just sign up for an account, and follow a few people.

A few law student-related accounts you might consider following:

There are tons of other great people, these are just suggestions!

Then, check out this Twitter 101 guide and start going deeper. What are hashtags? How do you send a reply? Don’t worry about all of these things now — you’ll figure them out.

Once you’re comfortable, start posting your own Tweets. One word of advice — no one cares what you ate for breakfast. Try to make your stream useful, even if it ends up being a sort of persona for you. You’re not Jane Doe, random person Tweeting about random things. You’re Jane Doe, future lawyer with an expertise in housing law and affordable development. Totally different people!

Try it out, have fun, and let me know you exist.

Have questions about Twitter? Leave them in the comments!

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Comments

  1. I actually wrote a post on this for Kaplan. You can read it here. http://www.beyondhearsay.com/2011/07/07/using-twitter-to-grow-my-network/

    • Jason –

      Great article, thanks for the link. I love the case study aspect of your article, as it gives a fantastic roadmap for other law students who aren’t sure where to start.

      And, of course, Law School Chat (http://lawschoolchat.com/) is a great resource for people to get involved in an easy, structured way.

      A.

  2. Personally, I have mixed feelings on law students & social media. It seems to me that way too many employers are using social media as a tool to discriminate against people for being themselves. How many stories do you hear about people refusing to interview folks b/c of some silly picture of themselves on Facebook? I’ve even read comments on HR blogs where some drudge looked up a commenter’s Twitter profile then says “You need to work on your grammar” & otherwise gets all whiny because the commenter dares to have a personality.

    I myself am an entertainment lawyer (licensed nearly 4 years now) but also have a partnership in an entertainment business where I’m not just “the lawyer” but have outlets for my creative talent as well. Most people don’t get that opportunity. I get the latitude to be who I really am & not adopt a fake personality to satisfy some big law firm or government agency. As someone in the interviewer seat (I’ve handled the non-creative HR work), I won’t even look at social media profiles unless that’s how I was contacted since I don’t want someone’s race, political beliefs or personal views on some topic influencing how I treat an applicant or if I give that person an interview. You may not even find the right person & end up eliminating him/her based on information about another John M. Smith.

    Personally, I don’t see a point in having a social media presence if who you are is just going to be used against you later because some employer can’t be bothered to accept one’s competence at doing a job but insist on behaving like everyone’s parents. What’s it to you what an employee does privately, on their OWN time & where it’s not revealing company secrets or falsely representing the company (such as saying “XYZ company agrees with this” or wearing your company gear to a KKK rally)? If you have to be a stick in the mud 24/7 & NEVER have an emotion, feeling or typo, then what is the point?

    I think it’s wrong to ask for access to Facebook profiles (mine is for friends & people who SUPPORT me in life) or be required to friend anyone from the workplace as a condition to employment unless who you are won’t be used against you. Yes, lawyers have that high moral standards requirement under ethics rules (though I think some issues are handled unfairly) & you don’t want child molesters teaching kids but should someone’s revealing Halloween costume be the basis for denying one an interview? Should being an Obama supporter be sufficient not to interview someone for an associate position in a law firm? I think it goes way too far & crosses into Big Brother territory when the basis for denying a job or interview has to do with factors having ZERO relevance to one’s ability to do the work. I’m also not a supporter of viewing credit reports for non-money handling jobs, in case you wondered.

    My theory is that eventually people will catch on & all social media profiles will be useless since everyone will put on a front for potential employers. What do you think?

    • You raise some very interesting points! I agree that most of what you talk about is potentially problematic. Having said that, I think a lot of the “people are watching what you put on Facebook!” hype is a little overblown in the media. If someone’s FB page is public, well, that’s probably a mistake (if they’re posting anything remotely sensitive). If you post something in a public forum that makes you look like an idiot, it’s not completely unreasonable for an employer to question your judgment. (Of course, we can debate what should be considered “something that makes you look like an idiot” in today’s world! My opinion is probably quite different from the average law firm HR person.)

      I completely agree that it’s wrong for employers to expect access to someone’s private FB page as a condition of employment. Is that even legal? IMHO, if you’ve posted something on your private page, and the world can’t get to it — good for you. That’s kind of the point. (Assuming you can trust your FB friends not to spread what you’ve posted.)

      For me, the most interesting aspects of this whole discussion arise out of the idea of having multiple persona for different aspects of your online life. Is that even possible today? I mean, if you look at my LinkedIn page vs. my FB account, you probably wouldn’t know they were the same person. Ditto for my Twitter account, or even this website. (One friend told me when it launched that he “loved the tone, but it didn’t sound anything like me.”) I guess I wonder whether there’s any one aspect of any of this that’s who I “really am.”

      I agree with you that it’s kind of sad for people to worry so much about being who they’re not, just to stay on the right side of a hypothetical HR department. But I also see the value in sharing different aspects of your personality at different times. Hence, the personal Twitter account (perhaps locked) and the public one, which you use for professional purposes. It’s not that this one is “not you,” it’s just a different version of “you.”

      Definitely food for thought!

  3. Alison, I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to get on Twitter NOW but, as you said, not to tweet about what your ate for breakfast or random mumblings but to create your professional network before you ever need it. Here is a link to an article written a couple of years ago and the please read the comments!

    http://solopracticeuniversity.com/2010/02/22/create-your-network-before-you-need-them-2/

  4. To be quite honest, the influence social media or the internet in general have on our career prospects scares me a little.

    As a student without the superhuman abilities some of our peers seem to possess, it is really very scary to put yourself out there, be it twitter, linkedin, facebook or your own blog.
    We will obviously, sooner or later, unavoidably say something stupid, make mistakes, or just plain sound like fools. And then we fear that one day we will apply to a firm we have been pining for since year one and find they have seen our blunders and judge us for it.
    Personally, I was very worried about posting a blog about my studies, as I am bound to make myself look stupid sooner or later. It used to be the case that we were allowed this freedom because we are, in the end, just learning. The solution is to be anonymous- which is really very silly considering that the current trend is towards abandoning aliases online and we really want to embrace this.

    We suddenly need to have different private and professional personas and have to worry about every social media we sign up for: Is it okay to have a personal youtube account? It would defeat the purpose to set it to private, same with twitter.

    And of course we never sound as refined and professional as other people posting about the same topics. Insecurities everywhere!

    At the same time, the internet is full of possibilities, if you know how to work it. And since ultimately, we do not have a choice, work it we will. We know how important networking is, and thanks to twitter, we have opportunities that didn’t exist before. You’re very right to say that these opportunities need to be embraced as soon as possible during our student lives.
    Maybe we should also worry less and ask ourselves if a future employer cares about us having a personality outside of work and has a problem with our perfectly natural learning (and growing up) process during school, we may not want to work for them in the first place…

    Thanks for an excellent article, Alison.

    • Thanks for this very thoughtful comment. You really nail the basic dilemma — social media is potentially super useful, but also fraught with potential minefields. I was talking about this topic today on a panel at the Ms. JD conference, and someone brought up an issue I’d never considered: what if you’re okay with having published some fairly personal stuff online, until you realize opposing counsel can read it! Not something I’d really thought about, but it does open up a whole new can of worms.

      So…one more issue to add to the mental checklist before you hit Publish.

      That being said, I think the benefits generally outweigh the risks, and writing something you later realize isn’t perfectly reasoned or whatever is a natural part of figuring out what you think and improving your writing. But, as you point out, do you want to do this in public? (Pro: You’ll get feedback and improve. Con: Someone might realize you’re not perfect and judge you accordingly.)

      In the end, I think it’s a balancing act. And — while potential employers will Google you — most aren’t going to invest a ton of time in digging. So just clean up your search results, and it should be okay (as long as you don’t make a real blunder and end up on Above the Law).

      If you want to get more into the nitty-gritty, we’re starting a new series on the Law School Toolbox on Social Media for Law Students. The first post: Law Student Social Media How-To: Twitter.

  5. I really enjoyed this article. I’ve tried twitter before, but I didn’t invest much time in it. I’m going to try again with your tips in mind- thanks!

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