By: Prof. Gregory Bordelon (U-Baltimore)
In light of the pervasive and growing influence of social media platforms like Instagram, should legal educators and members of the profession be concerned with how the process of becoming a lawyer is being portrayed in modern-day social media?
The concern is not any single person’s decision to become an attorney; that is a noble calling. The concern is the impact of social media has on that decision. Do social media followers understand this commitment? Is it incumbent on the influencer to warn of this? The life decisions that drive people to decide to become lawyers are varied and often powerful. What should not drive people to become lawyers is simply what they see posted on social media. I don’t say this to pass judgment on an individual’s decision but for reasons of informed perceptions about the rigor of law school, the bar exam and the practice itself – rigors that, in my opinion, could never be fully realized in a tweet or comparable social media communiqué.
Can law schools “unteach” a snapchat on how to write a law school essay? Can a contracts professor challenge a student who believes that offer and acceptance in a UCC Art. 2 sale is as easy as two tweets? The desire to “learn” anything from social media is antithetical to the goal of legal education – to present the numerous ways that a particular factual problem can be resolved based on the equally numerous ways that laws interact with one another.
While social media meets many contemporary students where they are, hashtagging IRAC exercises or pictures of thick casebooks doesn’t fully bring to bear the scope and import of a rigorous legal education. It may be bragging rights to show what one is learning – that’s fine (to an extent), but it shouldn’t be taken as an example that legal education is light, airy and easy, subject to intermittent focus and random engagement. The study of law is to be like the practice – careful, thorough, dutiful and professional. It is a good thing, yes, if likes, shares and streaks on social media platforms are the things that cue people in to currency in legal education, but it’s another thing to have those interests be fully formed and owned in a responsible, realized process of legal education leading up to a bar exam.
I’m not a Luddite when it comes to legal pedagogy, not by far. I am fortunate to work at a law school that understands and in fact celebrates the changing landscape of the practice of law. However, the bar exam is ensconced in administrative status quo – calling examinees to a defined place, to be assessed by a very defined instrument, with component parts carefully pieced together to measure the minimum competencies required to practice law – critical thinking, analytical ability, succinct and direct writing with the proper persuasive tone to the proper audience.
I’ve been fortunate to work in many spaces along the legal education continuum, in the undergraduate arena, in the law school time frame and at the immediate bar exam point. One consistent thing I’ve noticed from students who are committed to the process is that they understand the gravity of the profession and the critical role that lawyers play in our society. It is the slow, deliberate researching of a case through discovery or the laborious piecing together of an appellate brief that mark the profession, not the immediacy of a snap or post that shows a highlighted casebook.
There can be many proposed solutions to this concern. It starts, first, with lawyers realizing a duty to mentor those interested in becoming attorneys. Local and state bar associations are the best avenue for initiatives of specific mentoring. It is “general mentoring” that should be explored – the idea of having lawyers, judges and the academy expose the public to what lawyers do and to the rigor and nuance of how to carefully develop the skills of legal analysis and reasoning. This could be done by “taking the fight” to the same arena – through social media – but such efforts would have to be carefully crafted to justify the reason – with sufficient follow-up, links, deeper dives and videos woven together to show the web of interconnectedness that is gestalt of lawyering. This could provide aspiring lawyers with real-world opportunities to see the dynamic practice of law. Social media is but the speaker that amplifies the message; the message should be that becoming a lawyer is not something determinable by a “like” or “tweet.”
 In early 2019, the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) released a comprehensive study of the reasons undergraduate students decide to go to law school. 44% of all respondents see the law degree as a pathway to public service, government or politics. 32% see a legal education as a way to advocate for social change. Source: Association of American Law Schools and GALLUP, “Highlights from Before the JD: Undergraduate Views on Law School.” https://www.aals.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/BJDReportsHghlights.pdf. Date visited: 19 August 2019.