Welcome, Bloggers, to Law School

A year ago, Brian Leiter posted this text of a notice that went out to some law school’s students, warning them to BE CAREFUL and THINK about what they post to blogs and social networking sites, because YOUR JOB and CAREER might depend on it.

I am, by default, our law school’s resident faculty blogging “expert,” so I’ve been drafted to send a similar message to incoming students at next week’s orientation. I think that a “pause before you post” kind of message is a wise one to send. Here’s my question: Is the “scared straight” approach the one that’s most likely to be effective? What might be better?

9 thoughts on “Welcome, Bloggers, to Law School

  1. Ideally I’d love some positive examples, as well as the scare talk- what have previous blogging 1Ls done to enrich their academic and personal lives, consistent with what the academy expects?

    (Started 1L today at Columbia; have been blogging for a long time, and wondering what (if anything) I should change.)

  2. I think a combination of a “scared straight” approach and one providing suggestions on “how to blog responsibly” would be most effective.

    Focusing entirely on a “scared straight” approach may discourage potential bloggers (who may have something valuable to contribute to academic/social/political discourse) from blogging. I would find suggestions on blogging responsibly to be very valuable – e.g., addressing the appropriateness/risks of disseminating personal information, whether veiled references to persons/events are appropriate (since student bloggers seem to frequently employ this tactic as a means of mitigating risk), and whether bloggers should limit readership of “personal” blogs to “friends only.”

    As a possible anecdote, while studying for the PA bar I read a seemingly innocuous blog that someone had written detailing her experience in studying for the CA bar (http://barexam2005.blogspot.com/). Although she did not appear to write anything that would allow her to be identified, she had included pictures of herself on her blog. Sure enough, she wrote on 7/2/2006 that a stranger recognized her from her pictures, approached her, and commented on her blog in front of her colleagues. Even though she considered taking the blog down (which would have been a shame), she was able to simply redact the pictures and better preserve her anonymity.

  3. I think the above post illustrates the number one lesson: there is no such thing as anonymity. Do not post anything that you don’t want your name to be attached to. Assume your professors will read it. Assume your employer will read it. And insist on respect (in your own posts and in any comments). Do that and you’ll be in the clear.

    Oh and Bar Exam 2005 is no where near anonymous. Like I said, no such thing.

  4. Law students might look at Heidi Bond’s blog, Letters of Marque, for an example of a good student blog that certainly did the author no harm and probably helped her in some ways. It’s here: http://blog.qiken.org/ Note that it’ not active any more (she’s off to a quite fancy clerkship) but I supose the archives are still there.

  5. There’s a good NYT article on someone who got embarrassed by their facebook profile. I’d add that in. It’s also a good opportunity to remind them that we have no idea exactly how much info archive.org, google, isp’s, etc. store, so anything written is basically out there forever. (see, e.g., Kate Litvak’s ssrn piece, blogging as bugged water cooler)

    that said, I hope that the blogosphere eventually gets treated as “conversation,” as a place to try out ideas or views that one might not necessarily want to “publish formally.” We need that kind of “in-between” space. To the extent early adapters treat it as such, it might just become it (believing = seeing). But we do risk something in trying to create such a space–namely, the possibility that an undeveloped or marginal view gets put around our neck as an albatross of discredit, forevermore.

  6. One of my professors said that you should always act as though anything you said or did could end up on the front page of the New York Times. That’s a useful maxim for bloggers. Ask yourself how you would feel if your post wound up on the front page of the NYT or some place similarly prominent. If you’d feel embarassed or angry about it, that may be a warning sign that some of what you’re about to post might be better left unsaid. Emphasis on might. If you really want to say certain things, consider whether you should seek a more anonymous or less permanent medium (or even a more anonymous blog isotope).

    This sword has a second edge, though — keep in mind that some kinds of blogging could also get you noticed in a good and positive way. Bloggers are regularly quoted in mainstream news stories based on the expertise they’ve demonstrated in their blogging. If you have something worth saying and you say it well, it can redound to your benefit.

    In both cases, the effect is the same — you are, in a sense, what you write. Ask yourself whether this is the you, the persona, that you would like to become.

  7. some “other considerations” as a recent grad who was warned by career services not to have a blog, friendster/myspace/facebook profile, etc.

    – I think that this Pitt student has a good point of view (http://shadylaw.com/?p=145), which he stole from Professor Nathenson.

    – I think Shady Law – complete with podcasts! – and Frightened Monkey (http://www.frightenedmonkey.net) are two excellent examples of “professional” blogs created by Pitt students. Perhaps approach the authors and see if you can use their blogs as examples.

    – I am surprised that there is less focus on what legal types know best: “the other side”. As soon as I started working at my firm (a small firm where most of the associates are younger than 35), I looked up each of the attorneys on Friendster (if you go with stereotypes, I guess Friendster is for that 23-35 year old crowd). And, well, you know those warnings that law students frequently hear? It looks as though some of the young attorneys were not as worried about what was on their profiles (specifically, comments from friends). It struck me that, yes, this is something that everyone should become aware about (see: recent news articles in WP or NYT about blogging at work). Yes, the net is a world with social norms and etiquette. Still, it’s also a world where people need to be human and explore. So, did I hold those stray comments against the attorney (please note that I am a most humble law clerk awaiting her bar exam results…who also keeps a non-professional, more journal-type blog)? Of course not! Instead, I focused on the fact that she liked similar music to me, etc and we were able to connect right on my first day of work. Knowing a little bit more about her background, I felt very comfortable talking to her. (In fact, she’s been a great mentor and I seek her out to show me the ropes). Maybe I am an anomaly. But, throughout my law career (school, jobs, job search, etc.), my goal was (is?) to remember who I am and to be genuine to whomever that person is. Thus, I tried to remind myself (even in the stress of exams, OCI, the bar) about who I am and what I like or else, i figured, it would all catch up to me later. Personally, I knew in my job search that I didn’t want to work at a firm that would look down on me for having a blog.

    It’s late & it’s been a long day (and my post-midnight posts tend to be filled with grammatical errors, which I’m sure makes me sound like I have an intelligent opinion…). But, my opinion is that you just have to be mature enough to recognize what exactly it is you’re doing when you post anywhere on the web – whether it be a blog or a profile or a comment to someone else’s profile (match.com? craigslist? the list could go on!). There may be consequences but they can be both positive and negative. As long as you make an informed decision…

    [disclaimer: to point out my semi-hypocrisy, despite my views in this post, I have been more reticent to type about work on my blog (…and lately, i find nothing else to talk about…work is so interesting!…hence, I simply haven’t been blogging…). Re: my comments above and since I’ve only worked for this firm for less than a month, it’s just as scary to post about this on someone else’s blog…at least I know the consequences…]

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