Solitary confinement, quarantine—social distancing in all its nerve-wracking glory! Now that the COVID-19 pandemic has become the new normal, we at Law School Toolbox are encouraging law students to not only stay calm and protect their health and well-being, but to be careful not to fall prey to this new world of negativity.
Last time, I talked about some steps you can take to safeguard your reputation online as you interview and enter the legal profession. Here are a couple more tips to keep in mind:
1. You don’t know who your audience will end up being
You don’t know who is going to be on the receiving end of your online comments. When you post questionable pictures, it’s unclear who the final recipients might end up being. When I’ve been on hiring committees, I’ve recommended against hiring an otherwise well-qualified candidate because of his online track record.
I’m not talking about pictures from parties, offensive language or “wardrobe malfunctions.” I don’t care what people do in their free time. I mean behavior that clearly crosses an ethical or legal line—like soliciting prostitution, racial hate speech, or domestic violence. I know it sounds insane, but I’m not even making this up. You’d think law students and young lawyers would be smart enough not to make this stuff so easy to find, but you’d be surprised.
Most of the time, it’s not this dramatically bad. But even “good” information could get you into uncomfortable situations. For example, I had a professional colleague one time who I worked back-and-forth with a lot. We were in different offices but in the same practice area, and we never actually met in person. One day after a phone conference, I got curious about who she was, what law school she went to, etc., so I googled her.
It turned out that she worked with a few of my friends from law review—not surprising. The legal world is small after all. What did shock me a little bit, though, was her side hustle as an amateur fashion model—right there on her Linkedin profile. And she was stunning. But, the world of lawyering and modeling are pretty different (or so would I imagine? I really have no idea!). Those photos, while fairly tastefully done, in my uninformed opinion, were also revealing and certainly not something I would want my clients, legal staff, or the public at large seeing. Ha! Just yet another reason I’m not the model in this scenario, I guess!
Now, obviously, since these pictures were on her Linkedin profile, I’m sure she thought this through and decided she was fine with these photos being associated with her legal reputation. Aspiring models, after all, need to put themselves out there. Her prerogative. No problem with that at all. More power to her. All I’m saying is: think before you post. If it’s something you personally deem private, keep it private.
2. Now is a good time to practice being civil
In your life as a lawyer, you will probably encounter situations where you want nothing more than to devolve into hurling insults. You might be tempted to make a crass retort under your breath or punch the other guy in the face. Of course you won’t actually act on this, because you’re a professional.
My point is, as you practice law, you may well get to the point of being infuriated with someone else’s behavior: a client, opposing counsel, a co-worker… And you know what? Your best strategy is always to stay calm and behave civilly. Easy? Not always. Necessary? Absolutely. Being the partner who throws binders of exhibits at his paralegal because he’s incensed with an e-mail he just received is not a good look. It’s the kind of thing people remember. Again, I wish I was making this up.
Right now, as you look out your quarantine window at the zombie apocalypse that is seemingly on the verge of breaching the horizon, you may find your temper running short. You might get stressed out more easily than usual. Now is the perfect time to practice taking some deep breaths and not reacting on impulse—not retaliating, not yelling or name-calling, or storming out of the room. Maybe the people you’re fed up with are friends or family members instead of work colleagues. Guess what? The same rules apply. It really doesn’t matter what the situation is.
You’re going to be a lawyer, and that means being civil—in every situation. No matter what. Even if the other person doesn’t deserve it. Especially if the other person doesn’t deserve it. Taking the high road takes practice. When they go low, you go high. This is never going to become a habit unless you work on it.
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