“Increase your online visibility,” Queen’s University media and film professor Sidneyeve Matrix told students at a recent lecture about building your own digital brand.
She recommended students avoid being a blank online slate but instead use every social media tool available to strategically and proactively increase their digital footprint. Blogging and tweeting can demonstrate to an employer that you keep abreast of new developments, she pointed out, and an updated LinkedIn profile is an excellent way to showcase your qualifications, conferences you spoke at, papers you published, and your past work experience, and it can serve as a significant asset in attracting employers and expanding your professional network.
The lecture was open to all Queen’s students, but Matrix’s advice especially rings true for law students. As the competition increases for summer and articling positions, Matrix said the Internet offers a free and effective vehicle for standing out from a large pool of applicants, but students should remember that employers may conduct online searches of them. So it is important to present yourself in a positive light, and you can use the Internet to your advantage, she says.
A blog is an excellent way to demonstrate your legal research and writing skills by focusing on a specific area of law. Simon Borys, a second-year law student at Queen’s, started a blog to share his unique perspective as a former police officer and aspiring criminal lawyer. He regularly updates it and actively participates in online legal forums. He was recently contacted by the Ontario Bar Association’s magazine, Briefly Speaking, and was offered the student editor position. The OBA had seen his blog and was very impressed.
Borys started blogging shortly after enrolling in law school. “Law is becoming a more cross-disciplinary profession and students would do well to demonstrate what they can bring to the profession from outside of it,” he says.
He offers some helpful tips to law students who are thinking of starting a blog:
• Consider what your special niche is. Offering a fresh viewpoint on a particular area of law is valuable and will showcase you in the best light.
• Take advantage of multiple points of contact. A blog is a great start and it may be the focus of your time and effort. However, you can also benefit from having accounts on Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, and other online outlets.
• Working on your online profile is not unmanageable. There is a considerable time investment during the setup stage but regular updating is not as time-consuming as you may think.
• One pitfall to avoid is expressing too strong of an opinion on a controversial topic. Tread lightly around sensitive issues or else you risk alienating yourself from future employers.
• Be careful not to violate the law society’s Rules of Professional Conduct. If you respond to a comment, you must make it clear that you are not providing legal advice that is specific to the commentator’s case but merely sharing your insight on the topic. Your blog or Twitter account should have a similar disclaimer.
• If you are short on time and cannot maintain your own blog, consider contributing to a blog such as Law is Cool. You can achieve many of the same benefits without investing as much time and effort.
If done properly, showcasing your strengths online may help you land interviews. Ari Blicker, director of student and associate programs at Aird & Berlis LLP, receives very few applications that draw his attention to the student’s online activities. He emphasizes that a half-hearted or poorly executed effort does not help an applicant’s chances. However, he admits that he would be impressed with a blog “that looks genuine, demonstrates a high level of interest, and is both thoughtful and sophisticated.”
Micheal Simaan, director of student recruitment at Torkin Manes LLP, once received a very creative video resumé and felt compelled to offer the candidate an interview. Still, he adds, “it is important for students to remember that they are entering a somewhat conservative field and so they need to find a good balance between standing out without being over the top.”
Jared Teitel, a 2L student at the University of Western Ontario Faculty of Law, took a risk by submitting a video cover letter when he applied for a summer position at various law firms in the fall. Unfortunately, he was not offered a position but he did receive a plethora of comments regarding his video.
“I think it certainly gave me an edge. I would say whether the recruiter liked it or disliked it, they remembered it,” Teitel told Canadian Lawyer 4Students. “And it served the purpose of standing out from other applicants.”
Alexandra Kozlov is a third-year law student at Queen's University.