All over Australia law students are returning to class. For some, it is their first time at law school.
But if a potential employer searched their name or image on the internet today what would they see? Have they got privacy settings on their social media accounts? Have they ever posted comments or photos on social media they would not feel comfortable having a potential employer, a law firm or a Judge see? Do they realise their ‘private’ social media profile is also their ‘professional’ social media profile?
Employers will track down your social media history
The vast majority of law students and many legal professionals are now extensive users of social media. Many students (and lawyers) believe that their social media activity is ‘personal’ and ‘private’ and does not concern or reflect on them as legal professionals. However, this is a very misguided belief.
Employers now frequently search potential employees’ social media accounts. Posts which contain material such as intoxication, drug use, racism, sexism, sexual content, harassment, swearing, aggression, criminal conduct and other unprofessional conduct can greatly impact on a student’s employment prospects.
However, on the positive side, social media posts which show professional activity, mentoring, collegial group work, volunteering, community involvement, involvement in University activities and networking can contribute positively to employment prospects.
Law students who intend to seek admission as a legal practitioner also need to be aware they must demonstrate to legal admission authorities they are a fit and proper person and of good character. Negative activity by a law student on social media can cause issues in relation to admission. For example, a law student who falsely held themselves out as practising as a lawyer on social media or breached confidentiality by disclosing client details learned at a clinic on social media could find their admission in jeopardy.
Use your social media wisely while at University
Universities are increasingly experiencing inappropriate student conduct on social media. This can include issues such as collusion, bullying, abusive and harassing behaviour, racist comments, aggressive behaviour, defamation of other students and staff members, and inappropriate sharing of academic material.
This kind of conduct can lead to academic misconduct and student misconduct disciplinary proceedings. At its worst, it may result in criminal charges or civil litigation. This can affect not only University studies but may also need to be reported to legal admission authorities if a student later seeks admission as a legal practitioner.
Let’s also be honest- it is not professional, kind and collegial behaviour in a setting where we know many law students are already doing it tough with issues like anxiety and depression.
Ten tips for law students
- Check your privacy settings on all your social media accounts. Consider what material you want to be publicly available.
- Google yourself. What is your digital profile? Does it represent the professional version of yourself you want potential employers and the profession to see?
- Remember your private is also your professional. As a future professional what you do in your private life, including on social media, can impact on your future professional life even when you are a student.
- Present a professional version of yourself on-line. Make sure you enhance your employability and professional identity. Have a well-developed Linked In profile.
- Remember your on-line behaviour as a University student interacting with other students and university staff means you are likely subject to your Universities’ Social Media Policy and other conduct policies. Read them. Comply with them.
- PAUSE AND REFLECT before you post ANYTHING on social media. Never post anything in the heat of the moment. Never post anything negative or abusive. Ask yourself before you post, is it PROFESSIONAL, ETHICAL, EMPATHETIC, KIND?
- Ask yourself before you post a comment to another person, ‘could I stand in front of that person, look them in the eye knowing their struggles and say those words to them.’ If not, do not post those words on social media.
- Be aware of who you friend, like and comment upon- this too may reflect on you as a potential employee and professional.
- Ask your friends not to post images of you on social media without your consent.
- Be aware that the tone of your emails and other communication with University staff, your student colleagues and your teachers can reflect poorly upon you if you are disrespectful, aggressive or unprofessional in the language you use and content of the email or communication.
Dr Kylie Burns is a senior lecturer at the Griffith Law School. Kylie is passionate about engaging and effective learning in the digital age and advises first year law students on social media and e-professionalism.
Dr Burns co-edited with Ms Zoe Rathus and Dr Rachel Dioso-Villa a special issue of the Griffith Law Review, ‘Judicial Decision-Making and “Outside” Extra-Judicial Knowledge’, available now.
Law Institute of Victoria, Guidelines on the Ethical Use of Social Media
Queensland Law Society, Ethical Issues When Using Social Media
Kylie Burns and Lillian Corbin, ‘E-Professionalism: The Global Reach of the Lawyer’s Duty to Use Social Media Ethically’ (2016) Journal of the Professional Lawyer 153