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How Should Young Lawyers Conduct Themselves Online?

For the unaware, there is a lawyer-centric blogging platform/service called Lexblog, which is geared towards providing a turn-key solution to blogging/SEO/social media/etc . The CEO of the company is Kevin O’Keefe, and he maintains a blog called Real Lawyers Have Blogs. Yesterday, Kevin put up a post asking: Can blogging and other social media fill a part of the mentoring gap for young lawyers? Some excerpts:

Social media, including blogging, is an odd duck for recent bar admittees. The young lawyers who participate in blogging and other social media get kicked in the teeth by many senior lawyers for trying to get out and have a reputation before they know how to practice law…

  • What’s so bad about young lawyers reading blogs by senior lawyers and law professors around the country and engaging the senior lawyers via posts on the young lawyer’s blog?
  • What’s so bad about having these senior lawyers who are blogging then engaging the younger lawyers who are blogging? Maybe they connect on LinkedIn and meet in person? Maybe the young lawyer starts to call and email the senior lawyers they met blogging with questions/concerns on matters they are working on? I always helped younger lawyers when I practiced, whether in my firm or not, and the more senior lawyers helped me even after I had practiced for the better part of 20 years.
  • What’s so bad about a young lawyer sharing on Twitter the news and info relating to a niche that the young lawyer sees in their RSS reader and on Twitter? Maybe a few senior lawyers begin to follow them which results in them exchanging emails, connecting on LinkedIn, talking on the phone, and meeting in person? Maybe a mentorship relationship ensues?
Recent law grads who aren’t afraid of connecting with senior lawyers, meeting people, and asking questions to seek guidance and counsel should be lauded…

There’s more there, particularly about how there is a dearth of mentoring options for most new law grads. The economy is bad, firms aren’t hiring, and new law grads are being forced to hang their shingles. The chorus of life for a 21st century law school graduate: Twitter. Happy Hour. Above the Law.

Kevin’s central premise seems to be: “what’s wrong with these new law grads seeking out mentors online?” These poor souls don’t have the time or money to engage in CLEs, networking, and the like that used to give rise to mentoring opportunities in the past. But there lies something else ghosting its way through his post- that these new lawyers should begin to aggregate and filter news and information. They should choose a specific legal niche and then share that with others in some vain hope that it will attract the attention of more seasoned lawyers who will want to befriend them.

Although there is nothing to indicate how these brand new lawyers are supposed to understand what is interesting or significant in a niche area of law or why a more seasoned lawyer would start following them. Why is the seasoned lawyer wasting their time on Twitter anyway?

Manufactured Identities

This is a particularly interesting topic to me personally, as I’m exactly the type of “young lawyer,” Kevin is referring to in his post. I struck out blogging as a 3L. When I started blogging I wasn’t looking for mentoring. I had only vague initial goals: explore my thoughts on what it meant to be a young lawyer – and how to become a better one. It seemed the only suitable topic because choosing any specific area of law to cover would entail me doing something I’m not comfortable with doing: pretending to be something that I’m not.

I thought about crafting a blog around a specific niche/practice area, but anything I posted would be conjecture or posturing. There is an argument that a person can learn a great deal by writing about a topic – one that I agree with. But I wouldn’t share that writing if it was on a topic I wasn’t familiar with and I wasn’t confident in my ability to discuss it intelligently with other people. So I keep my writing to what I know: self-improvement, personal management, technology, social media. Yet many other new lawyers online don’t seem to have the same self-restraint.

The ease of publishing that has arisen with the internet has pros and cons. It allows people to readily have a voice – but is also requires readers to have their BS detectors set to High as very few people actually have anything worthy to say.

While nominally a blog is for other people to read – I’m selfish – I want my blogging to make me better professionally and personally. In doing so I don’t need to project some sort of farcical, manicured version of myself online in order to “win friends and influence people,” gain clients, or whatever. This isn’t what Kevin is advocating but it certainly seems to be par for the course for many of the new lawyers coming online. They tailor the image they project of themselves online in order to make themselves much “larger” than they are in real life – all in the hopes of appearing to be a “thought leader“and gain traffic. Look no further than the recent scandal of Joseph Rakofsky.

Gaining Mentors and Attracting an Audience

In the 6 months after I started Associate’s Mind it went from having zero web presence online to the 41st most popular legal blog out of the almost 500 tracked by Avvo.com.* I dropped off the blogging scene for two months to take the bar and my blog dropped into the 140s. But I’ve been back blogging now for less than a month and Associate’s Mind is listed as the 54th most popular legal blog on Avvo.

All this time: No SEO, no social media strategy, no other crap because I think all that stuff is maybe 10% of being successful in the online space. I’ve posted extensively about it before; see the free legal blogging statistical report for details. It’s not about the ancillary methods a person uses to deliver their message online – the message is what matters. Glancing at the stats, (stripping away all bots, crawlers, etc.) Associate’s Mind has had roughly 10,000 unique page views since Monday. That easily eclipses the vast majority of law blogs. Not to mention that articles from the site have been shared and linked through Reddit, The Browser, WSJ, Forbes, YCombinator, Law Technology News, etc. Numerous other blogs and websites (legal and otherwise) have written about posts they have read on Associate’s Mind.

I bring all this up not to boast, but to point out that I’ve succeeded in the legal blogging world without having to pretend to be something that I am not. I am not “faking it til I’m making it.” I am a recent law graduate who is just now taking my initial steps in the profession. I have a variety of thoughts and ideas on how to conduct oneself as an attorney. I look forward to a long journey towards mastery – one that does not end. Hopefully you’ll want to ride alongside me for part of the way there.

And I don’t want to have to trick you into doing it.

*Note:I don’t bother with other listing services anymore because I don’t know what sort of voodoo they use for their rankings. For example Justia.com recently had some obscure state-specific estate blog ranked higher than Althouse – yeah right. Avvo is transparent because they use Alexa. Alexa isn’t perfect by any means, but it is accepted as an industry standard for measuring traffic.
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About Keith Lee

I'm the founder and editor of Associate's Mind. I like to write, talk, and think about law, professional development, technology, and whatever else floats my boat. I practice law in Birmingham, AL.

7 comments

  1. Why can’t a young attorney blog about a substantive area of the law? I’m barely out of school but I have devoted considerable effort to a narrow concentration. In my experience I’m more familiar with the most recent developments than the expert partners. But it would be wrong for me to keep track of these developments on a public blog? Maybe those old partners are kicking in teeth because they don’t want the competition.

    • I won’t say that a young lawyer *can’t* display expertise in an area they are very familiar with, but I would generally take anything I read from them with a grain of salt.

      I think being willing to engage in conversation with readers in the comments, and the ability to display expertise therein, ameliorates the perception that a young lawyer isn’t experienced enough to provide commentary.

      Obviously, as a fellow young lawyer, I sympathize.

  2. Be careful, especially if you’re at a big firm, about conflicts issues. Odds are you have no idea what everyone in your firm is working on, and it’s very easy to opine online about some legal issue you find interesting and then discover, too late, that your firm and your clients are on the opposite side of the issue. Clients do not have much of a sense of humor about that.

    • That’s a very pertinent point.

      I’ve previously wondered how larger firms with a substantial number of blogs in different areas manage to strike the balance.

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