[This post was originally uploaded on November 12, 2014. It has been updated below with new information on March 5, 2015.]
Oceans of ink and an unlimited quantum of bits have been expended in the past several years reporting, analyzing and commenting upon the fundamental changes to the legal profession in the US following the recent Great Recession. Among many other things, there has been a significant drop in the number of applicants to many law schools and a declining number of available jobs law students upon their graduation. This is a very complex situation with no easy answers for the law schools and their students.
It is traditional practice at most US law schools for students who finish in the top 10% of their class rankings based upon their grades, to be invited to join the school’s law review. This is always considered to be a significant accomplishment and an academic honor. The member of the law review (also called the “law journal”), write in-depth and heavily annotated legal analyses about developments in the law and concerning specific decisions.
Despite the “New Normal” ¹ in today’s legal marketplace, any law student who is on the law review and/or in the top 10% of their class, will find themselves in a buyer’s market for their academic and writing distinctions. Nonetheless, what can – – what we used to be called the “top 90%” when I went to law school – – do to improve their marketability in such a difficult market?
They can blog, network and build their online presence according to a most interesting post by attorney, legal marketing expert, and renowned legal blogger Kevin O’Keefe in a post entitled Law Blog More Valuable Than Law Review in Landing Job on November 5, 2014 on his blog Real Lawyers Have Blogs. To briefly recap, he describes how Patrick Ellis (@pmellis), while attending Michigan State University College of Law, used his blog and networking skills to eventually land a job as an associate attorney with a top law firm in Detroit. I highly recommend clicking through and reading O’Keefe’s informative and inspiring story about Mr. Ellis.
This post also asserts that such blogging presented opportunities that would have otherwise been foreclosed to Mr. Ellis. Moreover, that the traditional entre afforded by law review as well as moot court participation and “who you know”, have now been surpassed by the effective of using blogs and networking to find jobs in today’s challenging environment. Indeed, as O’Keefe so concisely states “… networking online requires law students to listen, engage, curate and create content with their own point of view.” Bravo and kudos to both O’Keefe for writing about this and Ellis for implementing this innovative legal job search strategy.
Is effective blogging and networking now an equivalent, if not advantage, over being a member of the law review? Well, as many lawyers are often inclined to initially reply to some questions, I believe it depends. What about these scenarios:
- Law student X is invited for a recruiting interview at the ABC Law Firm. If he is both on law review and has a strong online presence, nowadays which one more likely got him the interview or was it both?
- Law Student X is on law review while Law Student Y has a terrific blog and network. Will ABC only invite X or Y, or both based on the candidates’ merits?
- ABC recognizes that they are lagging in their own online presence and marketing skills. Will they invite X and/or Y for interviews and why? Should the interview for X and Y be different and, if so how?
- Should alternative career paths be developed by ABC for X and Y? Should both tracks be towards eventual partnership consideration?
- If X and Y are both hired, should Y expressly help Y in building his or her online presence in some form of buddy system?
- Will X’s and Y’s skills be differently evaluated in performance reviews? How will this possibly affect ABC’s compensation and bonus structure for associates?
Finally, I additionally suggestion that law students engaged in a search should consider applying some personal network mapping software to identify the people who are “hubs” and “spokes” in your network. The hubs are those members with the highest degrees of connectedness and might thus turn out to be more helpful resources. (see also The Subway Fold posts on February 5, 2015 about mapping Twitter networks and this one April 10, 2014 on mapping LinkedIn networks.²) A Google search on these applications will produce many possibilities.
1. See this excellent ongoing column of the same name on the ABA Journal’s web site covering a multitude of important topics on this tectonic technological, professional and economics shifts.
2. LinkedIn has recently removed their networking mapping tool.
March 5, 2015 Update:
Following up on Kevin O’Keefe’s very informative post discussed above, he published another enlightening blog post squarely on point for this topic entitled Emory Law School Gets Students Blogging Early with Innovative New Class on February 12,, 2015. This spotlights Professor Jennifer Murphy Romig’s new class on legal blogging at Emory University School of Law. I will again briefly summarize, annotate and comment upon Mr. O’Keefe’s interview with her. I highly recommend clicking through and reading it in its entirety for all its details and insights.
Besides my own very strong interest and involvement in the efforts of law schools to provide their students with the latest business skills, this immediate got my attention because I am a proud alumnus of Emory Law.
Professor Romig’s new course is called Advanced Legal Writing: Blogging and Social Media. It’s listed as Course 851 on the right-hand side of the law school’s Course Descriptions page under Spring 2015 Courses. (Please click on the link for a full description.) The interview with her covered the following topics:
- Origin: The administration was supportive of the original proposal, looking to expand student’ skills in “public legal writing”, as distinguished from other traditional first year legal writing for client/matter-specific work. The professor had previously launched her own blog called Listen Like a Lawyer that turned into a very positive experience for her to communicate and network within the legal community. As a result, she sought to bring blogging skills to law students for use in the workplace and to “build marketable skills”.
- Value: During their job searches, law students will, in all sizes of firms, find potential employers with blogs or else those who might be interested in launching one. Thus, if asked to do so, they will then have the skills to write, post offer strategy on blogs. As well, it provides students with a “creative outlet” where they can choose their own topics.
- Curriculum: This is divided into thirds including 1. The “ethics”, “history” and “methods of blogging”. 2. Studying blog writing to present their “legal analysis” and “voice and style”. As well, they will work in groups to revise a WordPress* theme and explain their changes, and give presentations on other topics involving formatting and content. 3. Creating and critiquing their own WordPress blogs which, at their option, can be used to present their blogging skills to potential employers. Distinguished guests from the world of legal blogging will also be participating.
- Results: The benefits of effective blogging include improved writing skills in practice and online, as well as the generation of interactivity on other social platforms and personal networking. The trends include introducing students to “different styles” of lawyers’ usage of social media platforms, and providing them with the means to track and adapt to the latest trends in social media.
- Recommendations: 1. Begin on a small and secure legal blog among a “supportive community”. 2. Use blogging as an “opportunity to be creative” where students can test out formats and functions. 3. Find issues that are important to each blogger to pursue in their writing.
I am very grateful to Professor Romig for all of her work in launching this course at Emory Law. I was indeed even more proud of my alma mater after reading about this.
I want to suggest these additional suggestions:
- Following up and showcasing among students those instances where their blogging has had an impact upon their job searches, legal matters, social movement initiatives, and networking. I would gather these instances and analyses into a report full of embedded inks, to be shared with fellow students and the administration. Perhaps some form of meta-blog where students can post and actively discuss their blogging experiences and techniques.
- Using the blogging course as a recruiting tool for potential law students. Consider making this an expressed advantage of Emory Law in that the school will provide and enable students with the most modern tools they will need to communicate, market and practice law.
- Encourage live-blogging of events and presentations at the school in order to open another new media channel to publicize them as well as to refine contemporaneous blogging skills. Again, collecting and archiving these blog posts might be worthwhile on the school’s website.
- Has Emory Law ever considered holding a legal hackathon? It might also bring in some positive support from the local legal community and be a worthwhile event to live-blog and webcast.
* WordPress is the hosting service used for The Subway Fold.