Rob Marrs, senior policy and development manager at the Law Society of Scotland, discusses how a strong online presence can help law students make a name (or Twitter handle) for themselves and maybe even land the traineeship they've always wanted.
In my last blog I looked at finding ‘the elusive criminal defence traineeship’ and advised that those wanting to become criminal defence lawyers should build a network by attending events and creating a professional social media presence. What was a throwaway line probably deserves a little more attention.
In many ways it’s never been easier for a law student to build a network within the legal community or to learn from that community. The online world lets students engage actively with future employers and learn about what’s going on in the legal world.
Commercial awareness is something that recruiters consistently cry out for – one way to improve your knowledge of the big issues in Scots law and the legal market is to hear the views from the coalface. Think about it: you have access to the thoughts, insight and writings of the most influential people in the world you want to enter. That’s huge. And something that many law students overlook.
Be wary of itchy Twitter fingers
But before you dive in, I’d advise one simple thing: Listen.
The natural impulse on social media is to get your voice, and your name, out there so future employers can see your legal genius. Well, perhaps.
I’d advise a little (and only a little) caution. After you’ve set up a professional profile (on LinkedIn and Twitter), begin to follow people you’re interested in and see where the conversation goes.
Interested in corporate work? Follow the larger firms, their lawyers and the legal commentators on Twitter. See who the ‘’thought leaders’’ are in the industries and practices you’re interested in. Listen to them and you’ll learn what’ll make them listen back.
Then step up your engagement. Begin favouriting and retweeting interesting tweets. Ask questions. Put forward your view. Debate.
As you engage with the legal community, you’ll begin to notice your social capital rising – people will engage with you, ask your opinion, and converse with you.
Make the soft sell
In the frenetic search for a traineeship, or an internship, the temptation is to hawk your CV. I think the law students who do well online are the ones seen to be posting interesting things and discussing the law (and legal developments) with academics and lawyers. They may be looking for work but it’s not the over-riding impulse.
Law school can feel like an arms race. Everyone is trying to fill their CV with interesting things to tempt employers. Hours in the library stack up and internships are sought after.
In such a scenario, some will be asking: How can you afford the time to tweet about the law, look at LinkedIn or write a blog? I’d argue that given how easy it is, the question should be ‘How can you afford not to?’
Moreover, there’s a difference between ‘curation’ and ‘creation’. Yes, original content is good but the beauty of LinkedIn, Twitter and blogging is that you don’t always need to be creative – you can simply share interesting things. If you’re interested in – say – land reform, follow the key individuals in the land reform movement and, when you’ve read their latest article, you can tweet that (with a comment of your own) or simply retweet it.
If you want to go beyond curating content, the next step is creating it. This takes time and effort, but if it’s done well, it’s worth it. (I should declare an interest. Away from work, I’m an inveterate blogger and really do think that blogging can help improve one’s writing, help build a presence and – sad as I am – be kind of fun).
Bluntly, it’s difficult to come up with good, original content. It’s better to write one really good thing every fortnight than witter on endlessly.
The golden rules
There are, I think, four golden rules
(A) Know what you want to achieve
So first up – why are you blogging or tweeting? What do you hope to achieve? Does writing the piece help you get where you want to be? If the answer to the last question is ‘Yes’ then publish and be damned. If it doesn’t, then why write it and why publish it? (NB: That all assumes, of course, that you know where you want to go.)
(B) Write Well
Writing well is hard. Generally writers get better with a lot of practice – and cringe at their early pieces. If you want lawyers to read and respect your work, it’s important that your spelling, grammar, and punctuation are correct. Proofread your work! Writing well is more than that, though. If you want people to read what you write, share what you write, and return to your blog, it has to be quality, interesting writing.
(C) Be you
You may feel that as a law student you don’t have the insights or in-depth knowledge about a legal topic to wax lyrical about it. But there should still be some way for you to contribute – ‘’a law student’s take’ or ‘’A view from law school’. The very act of writing the piece will help you gain a deeper understanding of the issue and show the world that you’re interested.
(D) Don’t be dull
It’s sometimes easier to be dry as dust and not let your personality infuse your writing, but blog readers generally like to see the author’s personality shining through. The best legal bloggers pepper their writing with jokes and their interests away from law. I know lawyers (and law students!) can be risk averse. But the danger of writing something stupid that will be forever held against you should be weighed against the potential rewards.
Be smart. If you really want a job with a certain firm, don’t lambast them on your blog. If, however, there’s a big legal policy issue – say, the Society’s recent discussion paper on legal aid – then it’s fine to take a side, research your arguments and make the case publicly. You’re advocating a case, after all. Solicitors should understand that.
If what you write is always anodyne, "on the one hand this, on the other hand that’’ stuff then you’ll be fine, offend no one, and probably be overlooked entirely.