I would welcome any ideas you have on how college students can blog and use other social media for professional development (learning) as well as networking to build relationships and word of mouth to gain employment upon graduation.

It’s no pipe dream. I am hearing of law students from last year’s class who got jobs through blogging.

I am headed to the University of Notre Dame and Michigan State University this week. Football rivals when I was at Notre Dame in the ’70’s.

On Thursday I am presenting to Professor John Webber’s Internet marketing class at the Mendoza Business School at Notre Dame (@NDBusiness). The focus will be how businesses are best using blogs and other social media for marketing and business development — as well as how students can blog and use social media for professional development and networking.

On Friday I will be presenting and leading a discussion among law students at Michigan State (@MSULaw) who are already blogging and using social media for professional development and networking.

Michigan State Law School may be the nation’s leader on this front. The school is even hosting a contest this year to foster the use of blogging and social media by law students.

I have ideas of my own, but like I said I would welcome yours.

And if you have not had the opportunity to speak at Universities and Law Schools, do it. It’s invigorating.

Michigan State Law School is branding itself, at least in my mind, as one of the more innovative law schools in the country.

A school that is recognizing the importance of a sound legal education, while at the same time preparing its students to use technology and social media while in school — and upon graduation.

The wild thing is that the public’s perception of MSU Law is not changing because of a centralized public relations campaign by the school or via mass mailings to the alumni.

The law school’s students are rebranding the school through their individual use of social media. And the students are doing it without the direction of the law school.

I receive more requests to connect on LinkedIn from MSU law students than from students at any other law school. The same goes for Twitter followers. Not many on Facebook yet, but that mirrors that age group’s slower take to Facebook for networking.

The students are connecting and engaging on social to learn — as well build word of mouth and network for job opportunities.

I blogged a few weeks ago about MSU Law grad Pat Ellis (@pmellis) getting known by lawyers and law professors around the country and getting a job through his blogging and social media efforts while in school.

I had a great discussion with Chelsea Rider (@chelseamurto), a veteran and MSU Law 3L, two nights ago about the impact of technology and social media. Her inquiry centered on how we could leverage tech and social to make the law more accessible.

How many other law students around the country were having such a discussion at one o’clock in the morning?

I had no idea who Rider was 48 hours ago. Now I cannot wait to meet her.

MSU law students didn’t just pick up social and tech from the water in East Lansing. They were exposed to it by professors and guests speaking at the school. It was up to the students to run with the ball.

Ellis tells me it was MSU Law’s ReInvent Law Laboratory created by professors Renee Knake (@reneeknake) and Daniel Katz (@computational) which opened his eyes to the innovative use of tech in the law and the power of social media.

Rider blogs she was exposed to ReInvent Law and the thinking of legal futurist, Richard Suskind, who spoke at MSU Law a couple years ago. But it wasn’t until Assistant Dean of Career Development and Professor Dan Linna (@DanLinna) hosted a weekend workshop, “Delivering Innovative Legal Services,” lead by Kenneth Grady (@LeanLawStrategy) from Seyfarth Shaw that she realized the legal profession was being reinvented while she was in school — and that she could learn and network via social media.

I’ll confess I am getting a lot of student engagement from MSU Law because I spoke, via Skype, to MSU Law students last month. But it was Linna in career development who asked.

Other law school career development offices have turned down my offer to present. Some felt it not their job to teach their students something that feels like a trade school subject. Others believed their students would get in trouble and ruin their reputations by using social media.

I am not the only one speaking about MSU Law like this. Many legal bloggers have written about ReInvent Law and engaged the school’s students via blogging and social media.

Just today I received an email from Alan Rothman, a New York attorney and knowledge management professional, referencing a blog post of his analyzing the merits of social networking and blogging by law students. He was prompted to blog by Ellis and my later presentation with Ellis at MSU Law.

Social media buzz about MSU Law will only increase with the law school’s ongoing social media contest which will highlight the efforts of individual students.

Social media in law school will seem trite to many of you. Blogging, Twitter, and Facebook? What’s that have to do with the law? Why would MSU Law want to be known, in part, for social media savvy students?

Social media is changing learning and career advancement. We learn socially through others we respect, trust, and engage. We reach out and connect in a real and meaningful way with people we could have only dreamed of meeting before. We learn from and mentor beneath these folks.

Building relationships, a word of mouth reputation and a network are all accelerated by blogging and social media.

Being known for innovation and preparing your students for the future in ways that other law schools are not is all positive for MSU Law, its students, and its alumni.

Kudos to the current MSU Law students who are re-branding the school through your social media efforts. Kudos to the professors and law school leadership who are empowering the law students to do so.

That’s the word from Michigan State University law grad, Pat Ellis (@pmellis), in speaking to an audience of law students, law professors, and administrators at his alma mater today.

Ellis parlayed his online networking while in law school into a job with leading Detroit law firm, Honigman Miller. As a result, he was invited back by Dan Linna (@DanLinna), Assistant Dean for Career Development, to educate and inspire.

Ellis told the audience that one blog post of his shared on social media brought far more attention and conversations with lawyers and law professors than a law review article would.

Heck, I met Ellis at the LegalTech Show in New York City earlier this year as a result of engaging him via his blog. There were any number of lawyers at the same cocktail party who Ellis met with because of his online networking.

Ask yourself how many law students travel to New York City for such an event, let alone know a lot of lawyers attending the same event. Ellis was there because his blogging opened up doors that would have been otherwise closed to him.

Blogging was also more enjoyable for Ellis because of its more engaging style. No long articles that needed to be footnoted. How long would that take? Who was going to read such an article?

His message was a strong one. The things historically thought of value by law students — which law school, law review, moot court, who you know — were no longer as important. Developing an online presence via networking was more important, per Ellis.

When blogging while in school Ellis advised having a good blog design, great content, linking to social, tracking visitors, posting regularly, and writing in your voice.

Ellis was a man after my heart when he told the audience that networking online requires law students to listen, engage, curate and create content with their own point of view.

He was wise beyond his years in advising students to forget trying to please everyone, you’ll please no one. That’s a lesson most lawyers have yet to learn.

I had the honor of speaking to the audience, via Skype, to kick things off. I enjoyed it immensely, but it was Ellis who stole the show and drove home the message that students ought to blog and network online — if they wish to get the job they’re after.

Image courtesy of Flickr by Fernando Stankuns

I had the good fortune to meet Silvia Hodges Silverstein via blogging and social media, first, and then in person earlier this year at ReInvent Law in New York City.

Dr. Hodges Silverstein (@SilviaHodges) researches, publishes, teaches, and speaks on topics related to corporate procurement of legal services, as well as law firm management and change in law firms. She’s not only been studying client purchasing decisions for over a decade, it was the topic of her PhD.

Dr. Hodges Silverstein is the Founder & Executive director at Buying Legal Council and teaches courses in law firm management and law firm marketing as a Lecturer in Law at Columbia Law School and as an Adjunct Professor at Fordham Law School.

We have a common passion in empowering law students to blog. So it was my pleasure getting an opportunity to interview Dr. Hodges Silverstein, a blogger in her own right at The Law Firm as a Business.

Why did you consider teaching law students to blog?

Young lawyers need to differentiate themselves if they want to have a chance in today’s competitive market. Blogging can help them do this and start making a name for themselves.

It takes time to become a thought leader, but you have to start somewhere. It’s a first step towards building your own brand.

Blogging gives them a platform and the opportunity to engage with others interested in their chosen field, get exposure for their big ideas and deep thoughts.

Rather than just being told about the advantages of blogging and reading blog posts, I wanted them to learn by doing. They choose a topic they are passionate about on a professional level and blog about it. Do they want to be famous for fighting patent trolls? Divorce law in New Jersey? Fashion law?

How did your law students respond?

Students signing up for my law firm marketing class know they have to blog, since many of them have taken my law firm management class before or come by word-of-mouth from other students.

After picking their blog topic and setting up their site, they write their first post that I critique and grade.

The point of their post needs to be clear, the post needs to be interesting, readable and engage the reader. The blog posts have to be unique, original content – no re-writes of existing content, with a clear message/call-to-action, and they have to be topically appropriate for the blog they have chosen.

Students have to publish on a regular basis and follow editorial and optimization guidelines.

Do you see law blogging as a learning opportunity for law students?

Absolutely. Preparing to write a blog post forces you to research the topic, dig deeper into the issue. You need to understand who has written about it already, what are different points of view etc. You learn about different stakeholders’ issues and claim your own ground. You also learn what engages blog readers, what furthers the debate and so on.

My students are quick learners, I see great improvement after a short time.

Is blogging an opportunity to grow one’s network and reputation while still in law school?

You don’t become a thought leader or have a great network over night. You have to start somewhere — expressing an interest in a topic, engaging with others.

Blogging lets you be part of the debate and reach out. I have received feedback from former students who said that blogging helped them land their job. It distinguished them from their competitors and gave them something great to talk about in the interview.

————

Thanks Dr. Hodges Silverstein for your thoughts. More to come one law student blogging in upcoming interviews and posts.

Image courtesy of Flickr by marsmetn tallahassee

Law students writing on blogs and other social media are contributing valuable legal writing.

“Turn on your computer, write a blog post – and you’re an author,” says Andrea Lunsford, Stanford University’s Louise Hewlett Nixon Professor, Emerita.

The co-author of the digital-age writing guide Everyone’s an Author, told Angela Beccerra Viderergar (@abecegar) of the Stanford News that students are “writing more today than they ever have in the history of the world, and it’s because of social media.” Students themselves “may think it’s not writing, but it is writing, and it’s important writing.”

Sure it’s a different medium than the traditional law review and quality control comes in different ways, but the contributions made are no less valuable. They may be more valuable.

Historically, law students applied to be on law review as a resume enhancer leading to clerkships and high paying jobs. Those with top grades and and the “right stuff” as determined by law professors and law review veterans got “on law review.”

Articles would published by only some students and the audience who would read them would be limited and would come, if at all, long after publication. The goal was really show and tell, not necessarily to contribute to legal dialogue.

Now a mid tier student with passion for an area of the law or societal niche can flip up a WordPress blog and have at it.

They’ll immediately connect with other like minded thought leaders whether law students, law professors, lawyers, and business/societal leaders. Peer review is immediate and wide. Their content will be seen immediately, commented upon via social media, and they’ll join a national or, in some cases, world-wide conversation on the niche.

These same contributions can be be made via other social media, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, or Medium. Twitter leads to wider readership, collaboration, and relationships among contributors.

We’ve got more valuable content on the niche. We’ve empowered a law student to chase their passion. We’ve provided a path to a job for the law student – in an area of the law they love. We’ve added another mind to the collaboration and the advancement of the law in a niche.

I don’t see any downside other than for the law review gatekeepers and those wanting law reviews to retain their stature.

Law reviews will remain, they’ll just be less importance in a world of open source writing and collaboration.

I don’t think so.

A law student or a young lawyer can take to the Internet and make a name for themselves and build a few relationships along the way without becoming famous.

New York City lawyer and blogger, Scott Greenfield (@scottgreenfield), raised the question Saturday morning in the case of blogging by law students and young lawyers.

But isn’t the goal of every young lawyer to become internet famous? That’s all that matters.

Greenfield’s point is well taken. Why should we have law students, young lawyers, or, even law professors who haven’t seen the inside of a courtroom be out giving legal insight and advice on the net?

Earning respect. Earning credibility. Gaining the experience by doing something, and doing it well, is hard work. Gaming Google to create the appearance of importance is far more fun and a whole lot easier.

I agree, but I am not sure that’s what most law students or young lawyers are trying to do via blogging.

There are a ton niches not covered in legal blogging. Law students can report on these niches and tie threads together across statutes, case law, news stories, and blog posts.

Such reporting offers value to the legal community and those working in the industry or consumer niche being addressed. After all, who hasn’t used a law student or young lawyer for research, briefing, or drafts of jury instructions?

I used law students I met and hired via AOL message boards in the late 90’s. A lawyer in my office oversaw the research and motion briefing to make sure all the bases were covered. If it was more critical matter, we’d do the work ourselves.

With blogging, law students can improve their chances of getting a job. Something that’s been tough sledding over the last few years.

How so? If a lawyer wanted to start working with large law on pro bono matters, blog on the pro bono work being done in large law.

Highlight their work, the people involved, and the causes and cases worked on. Reference news stories on pro bono efforts, making special effort to engage the individual reporters.

Set up a Twitter list that receives news of their pro bono work and the pro bono work of legal organizations across the country. Retweet meaningful items.

In six months you’ll be known coast to coast in the pro bono community and by the reporters and bloggers who cover it.

Certainly no guaranty of a job, but I’d take my chances over a law student waiting for a job posting.

How about a law student at Notre Dame wanting to move back to their home town of Houston and work with a law firm in the oil and energy field?

Do the same thing. Follow the lawyers and law firms from Houston blogging on the subject. Follow key federal and state regulations on energy through Google alerts or the free Westlaw service you have available. Follow relevant reporters and stories with an RSS reader and set up a Twitter list with the right folks.

Blog to report and tie things together, not to give the legal insight only a an experienced lawyer could give.

We have undergraduate journalism programs filled with students reporting on various subjects. Heck, we have reporters and newspapers across the country reporting on legal news.

We have law students working on law reviews which with blogs are becoming more irrelevant by the day. They do it to say they did and to hone their skills in research, analysis, writing, and editing.

Why can’t a law student do the same, and much more, via a niche subject blog of their own to get known for their interests and passion? Why can’t a law student make relationships with and learn from lawyers and other professionals in the area of in which they are heading?

They can. All without the goal of becoming Internet famous.

Image courtesy of Flickr by Rupert Ganzer

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Lucy Williams (@Lucy_E_Williams), a PhD history candidate at the University of Liverpool, began a blog on her doctoral research last year. Her goal in blogging was to become a better researcher, a better writer, and a more thorough thinker.

Even more importantly, Williams writes in today’s Guardian:

…I hoped it would act as a space where I could share and discuss my research with others, be they fellow students, academics, or those with a more general interest in my topic. After all, in the face of a changing academy, university staff and students alike are acknowledging the necessity of raising awareness of their research, and promoting its merits, outside higher education.

My posts would typically examine a case study of one of the women I research, or explore a particular kind of crime that women were involved in. To my delight, in the year and a half of me posting, my blog did well, sharing my research with far more people than I could have ever hoped to reach in person, and allowing me to discuss and debate my ideas with people around the world.

Williams ran into the problem of someone plagiarizing one of her blog posts. Her emotions ran from disbelief to sadness, resulting in her taking a portion of her blog offline.

Though Williams article is on whether academic blogging is worth the risk, with the odd chance someone may steal your content, she’s eloquent and persuasive as to why academics ought to blog.

Blogging provides a vital method of communication and networking for PhD students and early career researchers. Blogs can raise awareness of a researcher and their work in the early stages of a career, before they have a long list of publications, or grant applications behind them.

Academic blogging, including for law professors, feels like an obvious fit.

  • Raises community’s awareness of an academic in the early stages of their career.
  • Blogging is a vital for communication and networking.
  • Raises awareness of an academic’s work outside higher education.
  • Improves research skills by learning through collaboration and networks.
  • Improves writing skills
  • Raises the quality of ones thinking skills. Blogging by listening to a greater audience, processing your thoughts, sharing your thoughts in a more immediate fashion, and getting feedback via other blogs and social media is a learning experience like no other.

Knowledge and the advancement of ideas in academia has to date ‘flowed’ through print and face to face networking at conferences. The Internet and the advent of blogging has changed that forever.

Knowledge and ideas flow quickly and seamlessly in digital fashion. It’s akin to water or electricity flowing to to the point of least resistance.

Holding blogging back in academia are fear of the unknown and ties to tradition. Not meritorious reasons when the advancement of careers and knowledge are at stake.

Though Williams may be using her blog in more limited ways now because of an isolated event of plagiarism, she’s resolved to blog again, because, as she says, “…the opportunities and benefits blogging offered are just too good to good to pass up permanently.”

20131020-134845.jpg Speaking yesterday at a symposium honoring the new Temple University President, Bryn Geffert, the College Librarian at Amherst, made a strong case that academic publishing isn’t long for this world under its current business model.

Via Dave Weinberger (@dweinbeger), live blogging Geffert’s speach:

Imagine a biologist at Amherst who writes a science article. Who paid for her to write that article? Amherst. But who paid Amherst? Students. Alumni and donors. US funds.

Now it’s accepted by Elsevier. The biologist gives it to Elsevier as a gift, in effect. Elsevier charges Amherst $24,000/year for a subscription to this particular journal. It’s Looney Tunes, Bryn says. There isn’t a worse imaginable model.

The effect?

Since 1986, serial [= journal] prices have increased 400%. Why? Because a few publishers have a monopoly: Wiley, Elsevier, Springer. With increasing prices for serials, libraries have less money for books. In 1986, academic libraries spent 46% of budgets on books. Now it’s down to 22%. And the effect on book publishers is even worse: when they can’t sell books to libraries, they shut down publishing in entire disciplinary fields. The average sales per academic book is now 200 copies.

Worse yet is the impact on developing countries. They cannot afford to buy the work they need.

The answer, in part, per Geffert is open access. Get everything online. Publish to the Internet with the schools employing editors.

What’s this have to do with law schools?

Law schools are publishing. Law professors writing and editing casebooks and hornbooks. Law professors and law students writing and editing law reviews and journals.

But law school publishing appears to be far from open today. Casebooks and hornbooks aren’t free online. Neither are law reviews nor law journal articles.

Not only are law schools and law students paying for this content, but there’s a very limited readership and no collaboration or interaction with the content.

Bring that content online through blogging and the costs to publish and access becomes minimal. In addition, the content will be commented upon and referenced in other law blogs. Learning and advancement of the law, the goal of academic legal publishing, is accelerated and contributed to by so many more people.

How much interaction is there between practicing lawyers and academic legal publishers, whether law professor or law student? Minimal, if any.

Imagine an open access blog based publishing network empowered by a law school. Law professors could blog. Students could blog. Alums whether practicing lawyers, clerks, judges, law professors, or business people could blog.

A law school becomes a learning network benefiting all of its members. Law professors. Law students. Alumni. Legal professionals with no previous association with the school.

Costs are reduced. Learning is advanced. The brand of the law school is extended.

Makes sense, doesn’t it?

Image courtesy of Flickr by David Ortez.

20131019-131848.jpg This from Carolyn Elefant (@carolynelefant), a Washington D.C. based attorney specializing renewable energies and widely respected author and speaker on practice management issues for small law firms, in an open letter to law schools.

If there is a single skill that I wish law schools would focus on, it should be blogging. I know I’m biased – I’m a blogger myself – but the discipline of writing regularly combined with the urgency of getting timely posts to press – has improved my legal writing immensely. Incorporating blogging into legal education is moronically easy. Professors could assign students to blog about the daily lecture, relevant topics (e.g., students could blog about bankruptcy law). Doesn’t have to be every day; maybe 3-4 posts per class per semester. Blogging would also get students comfortable with blogging software which is another key skill since they could offer to blog for practicing lawyers and help build up content.

Lost on non-bloggers, and perhaps law schools is the learning component of blogging.

The importance of blogging isn’t limited to writing blogs. Students gain insight from reading. If you want to learn about criminal law – both the substantive issues and the practice,there is, hands down, no better place than the criminal defense blogs listed here, most of them by lawyers in the trenches. But there are substantive blogs for lots of other practice areas. In fact, I’m not even suggesting that lawyers stick to law related blogs. I track the future of lawyer and trends that I post on here or here not at law sites but rather places like TechCrunch which are months ahead of anything that makes its way down to legal. For my practice area, I’m more like to look at green finance sites rather than blogs on energy law. What’s important is to keep current and engaged.

In addition to improved writing and learning, I’ll add a third reason why law schools ought to get students blogging. Meeting people.

No single thing in my life, and I am sure Elefant’s life, has enabled to me to meet so many bright, innovative, and giving people. Imagine law students developing relationships with law students, law professors, lawyers, business leaders, reporters, association leaders, and publishers from across the country — or world. The type of relationships that foster learning and mentorship. The type of relationships that lead to jobs.

As a law school, please be realistic as to the skills needed to practice law and who’s going to employee your grads. Blogging is not a skill that you ought to look at as being taught in trade school. Blogging is substantive in nature – reading, writing, and collaborative learning.

You taught me legal writing my first year of law school in 1979. Legal writing, beyond briefs and memorandums, has changed. Collaborative and learned writing is taking place on WordPress, not Word. Writing to learn and network is taking place online, with one-third of the sites being run on WordPress, the printing press of the future.

As a small business employer, I want employees who know how to continue learning, to network online, and help generate new business. They need to know how to blog and use social media coming in. That’s not lost on law firm employers.

Ask Elefant, a lawyer in D.C with a sophisticated practice, who she’d take on as a new lawyer. One, like most, without a clue as to blogging, or a law student who had blogged for a couple years in an area of the law they were looking to learn. It would be the second. Hands down.

What’s more valuable experience for a law grad today? Law review or blogging. I know what most law schools and law students would say, but I’m not so certain that’s the case.

A law school which empowers students to blog is the exception today. Let’s make it the norm a few years from now. Doing so would be a win/win across the board. For students learning and seeking employment. For law schools looking to prepare their grads for the future. And for law firms who need grads ready to practice and do business.

If you are law school dean, professor, or other professional interested in developing a program (even a pilot program) to teach blogging, LexBlog and I are happy help.

Image courtesy of Flickr by Great Degree.

20131005-170759.jpg Why don’t law students blog or use Twitter? Patrick Burke (@Sparty_Legal), a third year law student at Michigan State University, blogs:

Because they are afraid of the risks involved with putting themselves “out there.” It is not, however, entirely the student’s fault. Career advisers constantly remind students to be “careful” of social media (read: stay off it). Why not instead teach students how to responsibly use and leverage social media’s capabilities?

Burke read a recent post of mine in which I warned lawyers not blogging and using social media that they were forfeiting a position as a thought leader and ‘go to’ lawyer in emerging industries. Burke thought the idea applied equally to law students.

Sure, we don’t have to worry about being the “go to” lawyer (yet), but we must be tuned in to what is happening in our industry; now more than ever. Ultimately, students need to assess their own situation and the opportunity-cost of forsaking social media and blogs. For me, the cost is too high and it is a risk I am not willing to take.

Powerful position. The cost of forsaking social media and blogs is too high, a risk this law student is not willing to take.

Law school placement offices and career advisors are there to help law students. In the case of social media and blogging I fear that officials in these positions are not active users of social media and blogs.

When have these folks last needed to establish relationships and establish a strong word of mouth of reputation? Some have, but I fear it’s the exception.

Reading Notre Dame Lawyer, the Law School’s magazine, my alma mater (undergrad) touted that they were using social media to help their law grads. Job openings and interview announcements would be Tweeted. How is that helping law students build a network, build a reputation, and grow relationships?

A Seattle University Law Student tweeted to me that the school was warning students on the use of social, implying they’d be better off not using social media. When I asked Seattle U Law on Twitter if this were true, they responded that we should take the issue offline. Good law school, but feels they like social until it comes to engaging third parties.

Now we have Michigan State Law school impliedly telling law students to stay off social media. Home law school for a program that bills itself as reinventing the practice of law.

Probably a great program, but what social media and blogging program does MSU, Notre Dame, or Seattle U Law have in place to empower the future of its law grads?

How about at a least a program to educate its professors about the power of social and blogs for learning, networking, and establishing themselves — and law grads — as authorities? In the case of law grads, authorities based on their learning and limited experience. That way professors and staff will not be dismissing social or warning that the consequences may be greater than the rewards.

What are you hearing? Are you a law student? What programs on social media does your law school have? Is the school pro social media use to gain employment? What’s the general feeling of professors and staff on the use of social? Are you feeling well prepared to blog and use social to grow your network, build relationships, and gain employment?