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The #babylawyer Generation: Social Media and the Future of the Legal Profession

After twenty-two years of school, topped off by the harrowing experience of studying and taking the bar exam, I finally made it. I’m a lawyer. Or as my fellow graduates from the University of Minnesota Law School keep posting on Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram: I’m a #babylawyer.

So what does that mean? I’ll give you a definition:

#babylawyer: new lawyer, freshly out of law school; bar exam passed or pending results; low associate on the totem pole; where life used to be about class, outlines, and gunners, a #babylawyer’s life revolves around billable hours, firm happy hours, and paying off those forgotten (though unfortunately not magically disappearing) student loans; of the generation of where the use of hashtags replaces the need of a full grammatically correct sentence.

If you are a #babylawyer like myself, you may have seen your fellow classmates post this, or another similar hashtag on social media. It may be connected with that Facebook or Instagram picture of them in a suit for their first day of work at that big law firm. Or it may be a Snapchat of them still in the office at nine or ten o’clock at night--Because don’t forget: #babylawyers are at the #bottomoftheassociatefoodchain whose life is #allaboutthosebillablehours.

#WeAreAllAboutThoseHashtags

Don’t get me wrong, I’m guilty of participating in this trend as well. I proudly posted a #babylawyer picture after I hung my diplomas on my office wall. And let’s put credit where credit is due. We deserve to use all the hashtags we want. We are new attorneys and we have worked hard to get where we are today. No one can fault us for being excited about our accomplishments and wanting to share our excitement with the entirety of our social media universe. However, as we post, tweet, snap, and insta, how will these seemingly inconsequential actions affect us now that we are actually lawyers? REAL lawyers, without the hashtag. How will it help us as we begin, and hopefully thrive, in our legal careers? How will it hurt us? And to go beyond ourselves, how as a generation of new #babylawyers, will our incessant use of social media impact the legal profession as a whole? I believe that the use of social media could have both positive and negative effects, both for our own individual careers and for the future integrity of the legal profession.

Professional Networking, let me introduce you to the Social Networklike

As #babylawyers, we are the beginning of the generation where posting about our lives, especially the major events in our lives is common place, if not expected. Our “friends” sometimes even get mad if we fail to post those awesome vacation photos or wedding pics. Our use of social media, or the use of it by others around us, is the ever present reality of the world we live in. In 2016, it’s how we as a society connect and stay in touch with each other. It’s how we keep up with our high school friends that we haven’t seen in 7 to 10 years, and it’s even how we begin and make new relationships by “friending” or “following” those we share mutual friends with.  It’s even how our generation dates, i.e. you may have heard of that app thing called Tinder all the kids are using these days. However, how will all this posting, liking, snapping, tweeting, and swiping affect us, and especially the lawyers yet to come, as we enter a traditionally conservative, suit-wearing, “privileged and confidential communication” signature block using, profession?

On one hand, these connections, and our expertise in forming them, may be advantageous to our legal careers. Those Facebook “friends,” Twitter “followers,” and maybe even that awkward failure of a Tinder date, could be a potential client or even connection by way of reference to a future client. The more I use that ever popular trending #insurancedefense, the more I am marketing myself, as well as my practice and my firm, to the world beyond our regular clients and colleagues. Although that marketing may just be another annoying post on my friends and followers Facebook and Twitter feeds, they may just remember it when they are out at a restaurant or a bar and one of their friends who works for an insurance company says they are having a coverage dispute with one of their insureds. BAM! Facebook friend, Twitter or Instagram follower of Olivia Cooper says, “Oh, I have a friend who does that, you need a lawyer?” And hopefully for me, they do. 😉

These social media connections can be even more professionally beneficial to those lawyers who can socialize in person beyond the social media platform. And for all those #babylawyers who are fresh out of law school, you know exactly what I’m talking about. For those who aren’t, let’s just say law school sometimes doesn’t attract the most socially outgoing exceedingly “Type A” people. However, lawyers who can make friends by going out with other lawyers or other people who work in their practice realm, will make those personal connections that could lead to social media connections and even to future cases and billing for your firm. As a result, when paired with old-fashioned networking, the use of social media, can be an advantageous marketing tool used by younger lawyers to gain clients in an exceedingly difficult and competitive legal market.

Our Digital Trail (or Trial, depending on auto-correct)

However, the use of social media, both past and present, by the new generation of #babylawyers, could also be damaging to our legal careers and professional personas. As young lawyers we all most likely have a LinkedIn profile. LinkedIn is the social media networking platform for our professional lives. It’s a platform where our academics, professional accomplishments, and skills are on display to our professional colleagues and potential future employers. However, LinkedIn is what I would call an extremely watered-down version of our social media presence. No need to worry about a potential employer going back to that album from 10 years ago that shows you sloshed at a frat party on LinkedIn. Nope. That’s what Facebook is for. And it’s only a Google search away. And as a generation of lawyers, who, unlike some of the older partners and associates in our firm, most of us have had Facebook accounts since it became cool in our high school and college years. Few, though an increasing number in the rising law school classes, have had Facebook accounts since they were in junior high, or gasp, even middle school. And although you may now be a professional adult, drinking wine at happy hour with your colleagues after a busy day in court, that picture of you with braces as an awkward teenager in your Hollister t-shirt, flared jeans, and shox Nike shoes, is still alive and well on that account somewhere, along with that album of you and your sorority sisters in your cute matching white, red, black, or whatever color scheme dress you were required to buy for that #greeklife college event.

Unfortunately, however, it doesn’t just end there. Now we have Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and a million different online dating apps that millennials are using to share their opinions and document the happenings of their daily lives. And just as that embarrassing awkward teenage braces picture is stored on a server somewhere forever, so too is that snapchat you sent of you and your friends doing a shot-ski the other night at your favorite bar. And same with all those conversations you’ve been having on Tinder, Bumble, Coffee Meets Bagel, or the millions of other dating apps you may have downloaded on your phone. Whether publicly or privately posted, or even magically disappearing like snapchat, our social media presence never really disappears. Once put out there, it is out there forever. (Or at least that’s my elementary understanding of the seemingly incomprehensible magical thing called “the cloud”). Our generation, is obsessed with these apps, yet little do we realize the digital footprint we are leaving behind by using them.

However, as lawyers, who are trained to think about evidence and the new ways we can uncover and “discover” it, we should be thinking about the trail we, as well as our clients, are leaving behind. For our clients, it is only a matter of time until Snapchat is served with a subpoena to produce all of “client x’s” Snapchat stories “on the night of the incident in question.” As lawyers, our social media presence may bring up new issues and concerns that the Rules of Professional Conduct and well as the profession as a whole will need to address. For instance, how will Rule 1.6, regulating Confidentiality need to change? Rule 1.6 of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct states:

(a) A lawyer shall not reveal information relating to the representation of a client unless the client gives informed consent…

(c) A lawyer shall make reasonable efforts to prevent the inadvertent or unauthorized disclosure of, or unauthorized access to, information relating to the representation of a client.

#babylawyers, you better check to make sure your client files are #outofthepicture before you post that next amazing late night working photo on Instagram or Snapchat. That “Perpetua” filter isn’t going to aid in your argument with the Professional Conduct Board.

And what about the professionalism expected of us as attorneys? What about the oath we took in our admission to the bar? In Minnesota, we swore to:

“… conduct [ourselves] as an attorney and counselor at law in an upright and courteous manner, to the best of [our] learning and ability, with all good fidelity as well to the court as to the client, and that [we] will use no falsehood or deceit, nor delay any person’s cause for lucre or malice…” Minn. Stat. § 387.07 (9) (2016).

How could those drunk midnight snapchats, Facebook posts, Instagram posts, or even conversations on Tinder, be used against us, or even the younger generation of lawyers yet to come, as evidence in our breach of this oath? Or as evidence against our character and fitness as a member of the bar? How will it affect our integrity as a profession as a whole? Being a lawyer isn’t just a job title, but a time-honored role in our society. People look to us to give them guidance on all areas of life, not just their legal issues. Lawyers run businesses and companies; they are members of the school board and non-profit; they even make our laws and run our country as legislators, senators, and even as the President of the United States. (Current president elect, excepted). Where our political scandals now revolve around Anthony Weiner’s text messages and Secretary Clinton’s emails, the scandal could eventually focus around the hacking of our presidential candidates Snapchat accounts and their old Tinder messages. As a result, social media may not only be an avenue to our generation’s success in the legal community, but could also lead to the demise of the integrity our profession holds so dear.

Leading as the world continues to “socially” change

As #babylawyers we are just the beginning of the generation of new lawyers whose entire lives have been posted, shared, tweeted, and snapped. And upholding the integrity of the profession in this modern, “social” world, will be on us. We need to be aware of our social media presence and how it not only affects ourselves, but our profession. We need to use social media to our advantage to create new relationships, gain new clients, and grow our practice, while at the same time being wary of our personal use of social media and its potential impact on ourselves, our clients, and our profession. And as social media platforms continue to change and grow, we need to uphold the integrity of the profession by guiding the generation of #babylawyers who follow us to not only learn how to use social media outlets to their advantage, but to do so responsibly.

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