As a law student, you’ve probably heard the old adage: “Don’t write anything you wouldn’t want to see on the front page of the newspaper.” It might sound hyperbolic, but it’s sound advice because, let’s face it, your good reputation as a future lawyer is something you need to maintain. I’m not saying every employer will check your online presence before interviewing you, but you better believe a lot of them will do so before making the decision whether to hire you.
When I worked at a law firm, I didn’t google every single person I interviewed. Of course not. Who has time for that? But you bet your boots I looked up all interviewees before stamping them with my approval for the hiring committee. Bottom line, you need some kind of online presence—it makes folks uneasy if nothing comes up when they search your name, but that presence shouldn’t include anything overtly negative.
What do I mean by negative? Well, that depends on where you’re trying to work. If you’re strongly outspoken on an issue you care deeply about, but it happens to be controversial, and you go try to work for the opposite side in that debate, it may not bode well for you. That’s not what I mean. What I’m talking about here is more like search hits that make you appear unprofessional or lacking in common sense or judgment – things a future boss or client would find disconcerting.
Why am I bringing this all up now? Well, there has been a lot of negativity online lately. A lot. I’ve been perusing multiple sites daily (not doing a great job following my own advice to stop checking Coronavirus news!), and some of these are geared toward law students. I’m finding some comments that are just riddled with vitriol. It’s downright stressful to read, let alone take part in.
I know we’re all stuck at home right now, but the rules have not changed when it comes to being civil and safeguarding your online presence. As you weather the dumpster fire that is the Coronavirus, here are two points to keep in mind:
1. Anonymity isn’t always that anonymous
First things first, you can hide behind junk email accounts and impersonal usernames to an extent, but you wouldn’t be the first person whose real identity was discovered in an embarrassing way. I’ve seen several posts just in the last week where someone wrote a diatribe about work and was later discovered by co-workers or professional colleagues because they slipped up and offered too many identifying details about themselves, their boss, or the situation.
Similarly, this week, I was reading a book on a completely unrelated non-law topic and the author happened to go off on a tangent bashing a former colleague for some untoward behavior. He used the phrase “ivy-league attorney” and described some pretty scandalous stuff. He employed a fake name but described this person’s behavior in detail. And, it was a bizarre story, so the details were pretty unique.
I was intrigued (and bored), so I figured, why not? Let’s see if I can find who this supposedly delusional, manipulative, highly unprofessional “ivy-league attorney” character is in real life. And you know what? Even though he used a fake name, after one quick search, it was obvious who he was talking about. This person’s name and work website came up on the first page of google hits. And there were a lot of corroborating comments, including from the person themselves, which means I am not the first reader who managed to put two and two together and plug some easy search terms into google.
If I can figure it out without even knowing these people, you better believe employers and clients can too. And fights and bashing aside, it almost doesn’t matter who’s right and who’s wrong. Even engaging in this kind of nasty, spiteful back-and-forth on a public stage sort of makes both people look like the kind of hot mess you don’t want to hire. I’m sure you’ve heard it before: the legal community is small. Be careful what you say and who you say it to.
2. You don’t have time and energy to waste on negativity
Especially right now during this global pandemic, we simply can’t afford to get bogged down in any more negativity than is already ever-present in our daily lives. I actually fell into this trap recently. I anonymously commented on a news article online, which is something I almost never do. Not because there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just not my usual M.O.
Well, a stranger responded to my comment. And what they wrote jarred me: “Stop spreading lies” they told me. What?! I hadn’t said anything untrue! I had stated an objective, verifiable fact. And, you know what? Even though I knew I wasn’t wrong, and I knew I was not, in fact, “spreading lies,” the comment irked me. It made me feel bad. I thought about it at least a couple more times that day. I considered replying back. I wondered who this person was and why they would say something like that. Pointless endeavor.
But, this is the internet after all. Anyone can say anything they want with zero repercussions most of the time. Many don’t value politeness in discourse and civility often goes right out the window. My point here is, why waste your time? I shouldn’t care about this person or what they think. And I definitely shouldn’t waste my time giving it any attention at all. Neither should you.
Look, this train wreck of a pandemic is taxing enough already. I don’t know about you, but it’s been hard not to feel mentally sapped at the end of the day. There’s so much uncertainty and many of those around us are getting their personal and professional lives torn to shreds.
So, going forward, why don’t we all take some deep breaths before hitting “reply” (like I probably should have done). Let’s let the Coronavirus be the negative part of the day—not our responses to it.
I’ll be back next time with some more points along this vein, but in the meantime, keep safe and for fox sake, please just stop using your real name on stuff.
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