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Back to School

Summer is over already?  Wait, there’s that other thing.  Oh well.

To celebrate and commiserate, here’s a link to a series of posts that I wrote a couple of years ago for students coming to law school for the first time.  This link will carry through ten posts in all:  Welcome to Law School.

I followed that up with a four-part series of Law School Survival Tips, which are collected here. 

One piece of advice that didn’t make it into either series is this, and it’s the basis of the scare-the-hell-out-of-the-incoming-1Ls talk that I’ll give at Pitt’s orientation on Friday.  More below the jump.

The network is not (always) your friend.  What happens on the Internet doesn’t stay on the Internet.  The Internet *is* IRL, and the reverse.

For those incoming students coming straight out of college and Facebooking and IM’ing and texting like your lives depend on it, assume that everything that you write or post on a screen, no matter how “private” or evanescent it seems right now, is being recorded for posterity and may turn up later in a reference check.  Employers look for this stuff.  People who are your “friends” today will turn on you tomorrow, and there’s nothing that Facebook can do to stop them except ban them from the system — after the damage has been done.  Not all of employers do this, and they won’t necessarily find everything foolish that you post.  Anonymity and pseudonymity have their virtues, but they also have some serious costs, and no identity is a perfect disguise.  Some employers will look (as well as some of your teachers, and some of your law librarians), and some may find you, and ugly stuff may turn up.  What kinds of risks do you want to take?  Post — but think.

That’s the short-term dark scary side.  But there’s more.

Learn to deal effectively with all of the services and devices and networks that you’re hooked up to, because however (socially) oppressive it seems now, in all likelihood it will be one or more orders of magnitude more (professionally) oppressive when you graduate.  Clients don’t just expect you to be available by voice and text 24/7 — wherever in the world you may be, whatever children or partners or spouses are in the room or car with you — they also expect you to be able to answer their questions NOW.  My family just came back from a long weekend spent with two other families; the other two dads are both partners in their respective firms.  Watching them manage their Blackberries on the beach was nothing new (the beach was a swarm of phones and handhelds).  What interested me were reports of the messages — “I’m going into a meeting with the CEO in an hour and I need a full briefing before then on Regulation X and the implications of the court’s ruling a week ago” — with not just the demand but also the implied threat:  If you can’t deliver, then we’ll shift our business to a lawyer who can.  And then you’ll have to answer to the managing partner.  Why did we lose the client?

When I was in law school, we were using 5 1/4 inch floppies.  In my first law job, I was given a Dictaphone, not a PC.  My contemporaries have had to figure this out on the fly, and most of us haven’t done a very good job of it.  You have three years to start to figure out how to make productive use of network technologies, so they don’t make productive use of you.  

There is a silver lining.  The sunny if not technically fun side of most of this is that law students can do themselves a world of good in the short term — and perhaps in the long term, but who knows — if they’re just a bit thoughtful about the network.  If you work a little bit at Facebooking or LiveJournaling or blogging or whatever your medium of choice, you can create an online persona that’s a *good* complement to your “real” self.  Not only can you manage your time effectively, but you can present the interesting, insightful you rather than the reckless drunken petty you.  The you that a professor or a law office or a legislature would be delighted to hire.

Like it or not, your career starts today, online as well as off.  Welcome!

3 thoughts on “Back to School”

  1. Mike,

    Thanks much for the post. The idea of a personal brand causes me some angst, but I think you are correct that the phenomenon exists and should be met head on. In addition, thanks for the the link to Welcome to Law School. The information is great, and students should benefit from it.

  2. Your post reminds me of Robert DeNiro’s advice in “Heat”:

    “Assume they got our phones, assume they got our houses, assume they got us, right here, right now as we sit, everything. Assume it all.”

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