Most law firm leaders question the value of blogging and other social media by lawyers. What could be learned? What could such activity do for professional and business development?

At law schools, it’s worse. Deans and career development professionals dismiss social media out of hand. Most warn law students to stay away from blogging and social media for fear students will say something that will forever haunt them.

I thought these folks were just ignorant. They didn’t know what they were talking about. They never tried blogging and social media for professional, business and career development.

But reading a piece in Inside Higher Education by college professor and writer, John Warner (@biblioracle), got me wondering if the privileged status of those in large law and academia wasn’t the reason for their shortsightedness.

Professor Warner took on Georgetown Professor Cal Newport, who had written in the New York Times two weeks ago, that professionals and students should quit social media before it hurts their career. Newport, who’s never had a social media account in his life sees social media use as the enemy of “deep thinking” which in turn hinders professional development.

Newport sees professional success as hard, but not complicated.

The foundation to achievement and fulfillment, almost without exception, requires that you hone a useful craft and then apply it to things that people care about. This is a philosophy perhaps best summarized by the advice Steve Martin used to give aspiring entertainers: ‘Be so good they can’t ignore you.’ If you do that, the rest will work itself out, regardless of the size of your Instagram following.”

Warner knows this is sheer fantasy. Sure, we should all strive to be be good, but we’re not all on a level playing field. Some of us need social media and blogging to make a name for ourselves.

Take two of Warner’s favorite scholars and professors, Tressie McMillian Cottom and Roxane Gay.

As women of color, history shows us they likely need to be better than “good” in order to receive the recognition that Prof. Newport believes will come if you do what the meritocracy asks. These women had every reason to believe that their being good would indeed be ignored.

And so each in their own way used social media not to tweet memes or fart around, but to advocate for recognition of their (and others’) “goodness.” In addition to their distinguished scholarly and professional work they utilized the tool of social media to become public voices. They made space for themselves that otherwise might not have been available.

It worked. Not only do Professors Cottom and Gay now frequently publish in prestige outlets like The Atlantic or the New York Times, but they also have established platforms independent of those outlets where they may be heard. Prof. Cottom’s essay “Finding Hope in a Loveless Place,” for my money the most profound work of commentary in the wake of the recent election, became a viral read after being posted on her own blog.

Look at those who have achieved so much through blogging and social media on the law.

Allison Rowe, who as a young lawyer spoke at the Kentucky Derby to international breeders, just one year after chasing her dream to do equine law. A dream begun with a blog. Would the next firm to hire Rowe have given her the opportunity to do equine law but for her Equine Law Blog?

Staci Riordan, who put the name on fashion law as a young lawyer at a more traditional law firm, Fox Rothschild, via her Fashion Law Blog and the use of Facebook long before most of us ever discovered the social network.

Think Rush Nigut, a “Triple-A city” lawyer in Des Moines, would be recognized by the Wall Street Journal as one of the nation’s leading franchise law attorneys without blogging. Being so good no one could ignore him was hardly going to get Nigut on the national stage.

Warner’s right.

The source of Prof. Newport’s narrow gaze is the same flaw we see in all self-help books, a singular focus on the success stories. His oeuvre: How to Win at College, How to Become a Straight A Student, How to Be a High School Superstar are all targeted to the relatively privileged, those who are competing from the already rarefied air, for example, those for whom the advice not to take so many A.P. courses may apply because their high schools actually offer A.P. courses.

Prof. Newport peddles a fantasy, a lie, one that resonates with a narrow slice of the professional class and all but erases the experiences of those who have been traditionally marginalized.

Is it possible that those leading large law firms come from a narrow slice of this professional class? The best colleges, premier law schools, clerkships and onto law firms in high rises with huge starting salaries. Senior partnerships generating a seven figure salary.

Law school deans and tenured professors with strong academic pedigrees may have shared some of the same privileges.

No question these folks worked hard to get where they are, but they may have had an edge over the less privileged or disadvantaged. Women and minorities certainly hold less senior management positions in large law than white men.

Many studying to be lawyers were simply not as smart from an IQ standpoint. Many had to work to put themselves through college and law school, permitting less time for studying. Others raised a family and worked full time during law school.

Sure, many lawyers overcame the unequal playing field. So much so that they could not be ignored. But many lawyers have not and will not without the advantages presented by blogging and social media.

It’s important that the privileged appreciate what they were given and realize the opportunity social media and blogging provide the less fortunate.

  • It’s not only their privileged status– it’s their fear that the privileged status is under threat. A trend in not only the legal field but in the general populace.

    Witness the fear by the makers of buggy whips a century ago.

    • I think that’s right Aaron. I have always looked at law firms existing to make their lawyers stars as it’s the firm’s helping them be stars that keeps lawyers and the star status of lawyers, along with relationships, that brings in the work.

  • The meme that a truly gifted lawyer doesn’t need or want to blog or use LinkedIn and Twitter is a kind of intellectual snobbishness that simply doesn’t fit anymore for those working in the business called law. There are too many lawyers and too little demand.

    It’s the same sort of nonsense argument I heard when I first got into law marketing, about 100 lifetimes ago. I heard comments such as “as lawyers, we don’t sell our services” and “marketing is for soap, not for lawyers.” They were wrong then and Prof. Newport is wrong today.

    • Thanks for comment. You’re right, no matter anyone’s status or position, there are too many lawyers and not enough demand. If you’re not willing to embrace something such as blogging or social media because “it’s simply not done in the law,” you’re a nuts.