Lawyers are good at holding back.
It can be an important choice for advocates in the courtroom defending someone or as part of an ongoing litigation strategy. Have something up your sleeve. Keep your pokerface on.
There is a danger though, when this mindset trickles over into the way that lawyers present (or hide) themselves and their services in public and online.
There is a real danger when lawyers remain in their bunkers or stare down from their towers, that society will regard them with increasing suspicion and fear, ignorance and contempt.
That isn’t a healthy dynamic in an already litigious climate.
So don’t hold back. Even if that’s the easier option.
I know many lawyers who are holding back. They are holding back vast amounts of legal learning. Every day they read, write and speak about the law. It shouldn’t be too hard to share some of that learning with a wider public, possibly online, and to do so in a way that isn’t all about the hard sell.
Instead, they make a conscious effort to avoid publicity and miss the opportunity to bring a bit of transparency to their corner of the profession. They fly under the radar. Dam up their learning. Cultivate mystique.
Some will do well this way. They don’t need to share what they are doing on social media. They are well-established. They are too busy. They deploy their knowledge to assist their clients and are under no obligation to share anything at all with you.
Facebook just doesn’t make sense to them. Why would it?
Others won’t do well. Their potential clients in an expansive online community don’t yet know who they are, where to find them, how to reach them, what to call them. There is a yawning void where their online presence should be. A silence where their voices, identity and values should be articulated.
Most lawyers I speak to about engaging with social media say that they just don’t have the time to do it regularly or at all. I know time is limited, but I reject that excuse. If you genuinely lack the time or inclination, you can always pay someone to assist you with online content.
I’m very short on time. I have so many reasons to stop spending time on social media. I have 2 kids, a busy practice as a civil rights barrister and a real disliking of the rapid commercialisation of online spaces.
Most days are exhausting.
But I do it.
Let me tell you why.
When I was in my final year of school* I did something relatively remarkable. See, I used to be petrified of public speaking. Even reading aloud in the classroom filled me with self-conscious dread. My mouth would dry out, I would stammer, trip over the words, skip lines. My thick tongue sat uneasily in my mouth and my voice sounded like it was coming out of a tinny speaker that had been stepped on by a large boot.
Despite an early love of literature, I felt stupid when I fluffed up reading it aloud. One day we were asked: ‘who wants to perform in the inter-house theatre competition?’ I heard the words, thought about it for a second, then recklessly threw my hand up into the air and volunteered.
I forced myself to overcome my fear of public speaking by acting on a stage in front of hundreds of people. I won best actor, an award shared with another (far more confident) kid.
It was no mean feat for me at the time.
Sometimes I wish I still had half the audacity of that scrawny, afro-haired school kid. With one masterful stroke he opened up a world of possibilities for me that would see me perform in theatres, speak on television and now talk with Judges for a living.
That kid did more for my career than I could have imagined.
After some hesitation I forced myself to start a blog in January 2016. No planning, no excuses. Just started it. Six months, 2,886 visitors and 4,810 pageviews later, it’s going well in it’s own modest way.
I don’t pay for any advertising because I don’t believe that the internet should be sold to the highest bidder.
Blogging and social media has benefited my legal practice. It has introduced me to new clients and allies.
The other day a colleague used one of my blog posts in court. That feels good, like a meaningful contribution.
But for me it’s also about changing how we think about who or what a lawyer is, steadily removing the mystique that surrounds everything legal and building understanding with a wider public. And having fun along the way.
Sometimes, in order to survive and to grow, you’ve got to confront your fear and do precisely what you keep yourself from doing everyday.
And don’t hold back.
* Yes, you guessed it. I went to a ridiculously over-privileged boarding school, Millfield School in Glastonbury. I got a 25% discount on the fees based on academic merit.