Beyond decamping to a remote spot in the Adirondacks, social media has become too pervasive and addictive to avoid. (If a friend isn’t on Facebook, they are probably on Instagram.) These channels are powerful tools for sharing media, engaging in conversations and consuming news. They also carry very real risks for associates and professionals of all stripes.

Back to School

When the calendar turns to fall, colleges and universities go back in session and non-school-related extracurricular activities begin to again be documented in colorful social media posts across the land.

At the same time, many newly minted law firm associates are starting their long journey to partner, the molting from shorts and flip-flops to suits and briefcases finally complete—confident in their belief that their rambunctious undergraduate and (at times) law school days are firmly in the rear view mirror. The only problem is that last supposition is flawed. Non-professional behaviors—even from years ago—can often be easily detected, with present-day consequences.

Where to Start

One of the first things you, as a new associate, should do is comb-through your social media timelines, running posts you are featured in through the filter, “Am I comfortable with a senior partner or a client seeing this content?” Err on the conservative side and de-tag and delete liberally.

Don’t assume that a site’s privacy controls will provide effective shielding. Other user’s photos may feature you, and third-party sites can sometimes harvest and re-post content that is supposed to be walled-off. Further, your Twitter avatar of a “tall boy” of Pabst Blue Ribbon is still visible even with a private account.

Prune and Then Prune Again

If you have taken the time to strip away the blatantly inappropriate posts—the alcohol-fueled heroics of days gone by—you may think you are done. Nope. Now it is time to trim a bit more. Remember, you are searching for more than just the obvious offenders.


Social media and sports are a beautiful combination. You can check Twitter for real-time, in-game updates and additional reporting. Of course, you can also check in on what the peanut gallery is saying. There is a temptation, say when an Eagles fan is really mouthing off about the Giants, to return fire. If you haven’t been able to avoid scratching that itch, it’s time to start. And, if you have posts such as, “The Eagles suck!!!! Manning rules!!!,” it’s time to take those down. It’s fine to follow team accounts and use these sites as conduits for information—just don’t bring the stadium brawl into your feed, or your professional life. Leave it in Jersey.


Nearly as proliferate as sports are political posts. You neither want to be the offender or the offended—meaning choose what you say and who you are “friends” with carefully. If a family member or friend is offending you, just “unfollow” them. They won’t appear in your Facebook feed, but they will remain your “friend.”

As an associate, you occupy some of the lower rungs in the organization, and it’s best not to make unintended waves. If you are a rock-ribbed Republican and the managing partner is a staunch Democrat, she might not appreciate learning that you have unleashed a torrent of negative posts. You also have to remember both your clients and your potential clients. In these groups, there are quite an expanse of viewpoints. It’s best to say little and maximize your ability to effectively market yourself and the firm.

Other Questionable Content

Sometimes things seem benign when they really aren’t. For instance, an associate who had peppered his Twitter feed with profanity saw his curse-laden tweets appear in a search more prominently than his firm bio. And while he thought his Twitter handle was sufficiently cloaked, it was, in fact, easily identifiable.

Another attorney was (and presumably is) quite enamored with the beauty of a pro football team’s professional cheerleaders. Absolutely nothing wrong with this notion. However, his social media posts on the topic were not beneficial to his professional image and business development.

When in doubt, you may want to employ this filter: “What would my mother think if she read this post?” My mother is a fairly no-nonsense person, and I don’t have to think long to find the answer.

Monitor and Respond Appropriately

One other key aspect of social media is vigilance. If you are tagged in an unflattering photo—say you are a guy with a faded six-pack or a solid “dad bod”—you will want to quietly remove such content from your feed. Or, your crazy uncle gets on a rant about something political and ends his post by tagging a host of people throughout the family tree, including you. You’ll want to un-tag yourself fairly quickly. Or better yet, ensure you use the setting that allows you to review any material in which you are tagged before it is posted to your own timeline/feed.

Now, a key distinction between Facebook and Twitter:

Facebook, and Instagram for the most part, is a personal-first account. Baby announcements, vacation photos and (benign) family and friend goofiness are its raison d’être.

Twitter trends more professional than personal. It’s a great place to follow publications and journalists and corporate feeds from client newsrooms.

What does this mean for you?

• Don’t try and “friend” client contacts on Facebook.

• Do follow clients on Twitter.

The above dynamic also means that your Facebook privacy setting should be high and your Twitter account is best left public, so you can be found and followed.

Trade in US Weekly for The Economist

The allure of social media may seem dampened with the above dissection. At least in part, this is one of the growing pains of morphing into a professional. Just as you no longer subsist on pizza and coffee, you can no longer put off tending to your personal brand and turning tools for banality into ones for productivity.

In addition to being parsimonious about how you post and cautious about how you present yourself to the public on social media, you also want to set your accounts up to achieve maximum professional benefit.

Organize publications, journalists and trade groups into customized lists on Twitter so you can quickly scoll-through and catch up on the latest developments.

Create a private list on Twitter of your clients, providing you with a stream of talking points the next time you interact with a general counsel. (These private settings do work.)

Social media can arm you with valuable competitive intelligence. Consider Googling key names before a meeting (after ensuring you are logged out of Facebook and LinkedIn). Public profiles will frequently provide you with key factoids such as likes (in sports, music and even politics) and key data such as educational background or charitable involvement. You may find connections you never knew existed. The person in question may even turn out to be an alum of your undergraduate or law school—a point you can work seamlessly into your conversation.

If you feel all you have done is prune down your social media accounts, take a break and plant a big garden on LinkedIn. Work with your firm’s communications professionals to effectively adapt and re-use your firm bio. Post your professional photo. (Never, ever leave the “ghost” photo!) And, really talk about your accomplishments and your background. Just as you search to learn more about a key contact, you are being searched in turn.

You can even use LinkedIn as a “virtual Rolodex.” When you receive a card after a meeting or a networking event, add the contact in Outlook and connect with the person on LinkedIn. One of the great features of LinkedIn is that it can show you pathways to other people—meaning that a well-tended contact can easily become a valuable referral source.

Paradigm Shift and No Opting Out

Not too long ago, the venerable newspaper The Wall Street Journal changed the name of one of its sections from “Marketplace” to “Business and Technology.” Business editor Dennis Berman explained the shift: “It reflects the fact that every business is a technology business, whether it’s farming or mining or consumer packaged goods or travel. Tech is permeating every industry.” This means fluency in technology is paramount and a competitive advantage within every associate’s grasp.

Nearly every firm would like to do business with the titans of technology, and this is why not participating in social media channels carries very real risk. You may be the perfect lawyer—in terms of your legal acumen—to handle a discrimination suit that involves comments on Facebook. But, you aren’t the perfect lawyer if you don’t understand and utilize this forum.

The information economy has meant that many more companies in the Fortune 500 are producing services that are mass-marketed. Attorneys can now be in touch with their clients’ products more than ever before.

Tend to your social media grounds, don’t pave over them. There is a tremendous amount of both personal and professional utility in these services. You just need to take an active role.

Set a High Bar

While this is a little extreme, and certainly not for everyone, a while back I became “friends” with my supervisor on Facebook. Since that time, I have had an additional filter to consider: “Am I comfortable with my boss seeing this content?” The standards are quite high for me to post as I recognize that my audience includes my co-workers, my family and clients and potential clients. More often than not, I just vent one-on-one with a friend versus broadcasting my viewpoint to the world.

As a new associate, your time is at a premium like never before. Taking the effort to craft a personal social media strategy is solid, long-term thinking that will pay dividends over time. Whether we like it or not, much of our lives are out in the open for the world to see. Controlling your image and harnessing the business development potential of social media can help ensure a smooth start to your career and provide a launchpad for future success.

Michael Bond

Reprinted with permission from the October 13, 2015 edition of the New York Law Journal © 2015 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All rights reserved.

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