Social media and exercising good judgement

The 2017/18 academic year has seen a marked increase in students using social media, specifically referring to their legal journey. This is particularly the case on both LinkedIn and Twitter.

Chambers absolutely do check your social media profiles

Students appear to be unaware that the majority of their posts do not put them in a good light and/or can actually make more senior members of the profession recoil, not wanting to help students who appear to lack basic common sense.

 Things not to do

  • “Inspirational posts” about how you’ll make it to the Bar. That’s what Facebook is for – where, of course, your settings should be private.
  • Allow anyone to see photos of you on the beach, in the pub, wrapped around your significant other, holding up a sign saying “free meals to the person who can’t stand up” etc. That includes your profile picture...
  • Posts thanking chambers for a mini-pupillage or announcing that you’re on your way to a chambers’ open day. Avoid this.
  • Posts announcing an achievement (e.g. scholarship) with 10 hashtags and an inspirational message. Do post about your achievements but don’t put in multiple hashtags & write ‘everyone can make it if they work hard enough’ – the former is childish, the latter simplistic.
  • Candid posts on The Student Room (TSR) Pupillage thread: both chambers & the Bar Council check this thread regularly. Bear this in mind when you choose your username, when you are posting something that might identify you and when you are criticising chambers. By all means, be honest, but stay respectful and diplomatic.
  • Add barristers you don’t know on LinkedIn: this isn’t welcome. This is not how to network. Just don’t do it.
  • “Debate posts” i.e. where you make some kind of controversial statement about the Bar and/or complain about the process. This is usually a very bad idea.
  • Use Twitter like you’re 16: this can include a variety of things, such as not typing in coherent sentences, having a profile photo of you in a nightclub outfit or using slang terminology. Keep it professional.
  • Pupil-specific points: don’t live-tweet cases (could be contempt of court), and do not post anything that may lead to your client being identified without their specific permission to the specific context. That includes “I am in Southwark today on a rape”. Don’t openly criticise judges or other advocates, and never take credit for work you did for your supervisor.

These online mistakes are easy to avoid.

Best practice online

First of all, be professional.

  • Write in coherent sentences (yes, really!)
  • Make sure you are in a suit in your profile photo.
  • Share your achievements but do so in a measured, professional manner.
  • Avoid contentious topics. Simon does not do this. But then, he has been in practice for 33 years. 

Assume everything you write online has your name on it before you hit ‘post’

Click or tap the image to enlarge

A note on ‘exercising good judgement’

It is universally agreed that one of the keys to being a successful barrister is to exercise good judgement. It is hard, however, to explain what that means. This issue came to a head when the site authors received feedback on the content of this particular page.

The feedback appears to be divided along generational lines. Some senior barristers argued that this page (in particular) was too prescriptive – people should be free to put some of their personality online – while some expressed surprise that this page should even be needed.

Conversely, pupils argued strongly in favour of making it even clearer what is and is not acceptable online. They felt this page was sorely needed to combat the lack of information about online etiquette and the numerous examples we see of aspiring barristers getting this horribly wrong. One or two pupils mused on whether the mere fact that a candidate needs such advice might be indicative of that candidate not yet being ready for the Bar.

This difference of opinions gave the authors pause for thought. On the one hand, if an individual does not know the ‘socially acceptable rules’ on X, you can’t criticise them for not following said rules. On the other hand, is ignorance of these rules evidence of insufficient maturity for the job? Put another way, if it is not obvious to you that you shouldn’t write controversial things about the Bar, do you just lack common sense? And what about those who know the rules and choose to ignore them anyway, not fully appreciating the damage they may do to their reputation?

The site authors have taken the following view, primarily, of non-judgement. There is no way for any of us to know who knows the rules and is choosing to ignore them (bad judgement) and who doesn’t know the rules because no one told them. And it is not for us to decide whether the latter is poor judgement or simply a lack of knowledge – that is not our purpose.

The yardstick we use is simple: chambers are collections of individuals in which, it is generally acknowledged, the success of one is the success of all and the failure of one is the failure of all. Chambers are, accordingly, nervous about reputations. As an applicant, you can bring nothing positive in this respect: you have no reputation to enhance theirs. You can, however, damage the collective. So, don’t. The question to ask is, “will this make anyone in the chambers I want to join concerned?” Now, of course, barristers are as prone to pants-wetting panic and dressing up personal dislike as principle as anyone else. So your answer will not make you immune from complaint. And the complaint might be utter nonsense. But it’s not an equal contest when you’re an applicant. If challenged, you should at least be able to say that you asked the question and answered it in the right way.

So, given that the point of this site is to provide information and guidance across all topics of relevance when it comes to obtaining pupillage, we have addressed social media. If you don’t like it or think we’re wrong, please tell us.

Next page: Closing remarks