Why Your Online Reputation Means Everything As a Lawyer

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Down through the years, the hallmark of a true professional has always been an impressive display of professionalism in one’s work. And more than skill, dedication or a strong work ethic, employees who have held themselves to this high standards of behavior in and out of the work place have not only found themselves been valued even more by their employers but have also been held in high esteem by even their co-workers. These days, hardly does anyone flourish in their careers without acquiring this important trait. Of course some might see it as needless traditionalism, but those who do have quite simply seen their careers hit the buffers. While the true adherents have flown high in whatever position they’ve been asked to fill.

Beyond doubt, the one significant aspect of professionalism for today’s professionals is the requirement that they observe the ageless separation of professional and personal life. Certainly, this doesn’t mean we can’t do whatever we want with our own free time away from work. Put simply, it means that we just have to take care not to allow what happens private spill onto our professional life and get in the way of our work. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But you might be surprised at just how few professionals today have managed to maintain this rather muddling rule of the work place.

And since the advent of the Internet, this whole troublesome issue has just taken on an added dimension. Deep down each one of us, there’s that strong yearning for social interaction and the internet has leveraged this interactive inclination in us all to make us a little more outgoing. Not in the sense of meeting more new people physically. But with the rise of social networking websites and online chat rooms, this has revolutionized our concept of social interaction making it so much easier to initiate conversations, make newer friends and more importantly, share every bit of our lives with family and a horde of other people (and mostly whom we barely know) all from the comfort of the sofa without setting foot out of the house. And that’s the fun!

We are all Internet savvy these days. Even an eleven year-old knows how to Facebook or google up where they can buy the latest video game. And you can imagine your reaction when you learn that a colleague at work doesn’t have a social media account. You might look on with horror and probably figure they hailed from a savage tribe. I mean, nowadays who doesn’t!

But more than the opportunity to interact and socialize, the internet offers you something more enticing – if you are an open minded, hardworking professional like myself– the benefit of stepping out of your largely anonymous existence and having an internet presence and acquiring a reputation in the process which could be either good or bad. While the internet might be a good place to earn a reputation with your online activity, but as with many things in life, it’s wrong use could have far-reaching implications for your career. It might take you a minute to set up your online profile or create your own social media profile and to start posting. But in comparison, it takes even less time for people to access it and form an opinion.

And if they feel that what you are putting out there in public appears to be inconsistent with the high standards of conduct for your calling or it’s too compromising, then they’ll have their say. And here on the web, word can travel really fast (they say something’s always going viral every minute) and before you know it everyone is talking about it. The net effect is an irreparable negative impression about your person and the undermining of your credibility. You can’t really be heard complaining when some start calling your excellent credentials into question. And all this from just that one single indiscreet act.

It may be nobody’s business what you do with your private life, but when you decide to share your private affairs with others on social media, people will take this as an invitation to discuss it and sometimes with several others whom you might not have contemplated.

At present, the Internet appears to be oversubscribed with countless professional who have caught the social media bug and are way too inclined to sharing unsolicited titbit’s of their personal life with the public. While they might bask in their growing online popularity, it may not dawn on them that the content they are creating is permanent and could be we accessed by anyone anywhere on the web. To say nothing of the fact that people will make reference to this in the future. And when any of this is negative, you’ll be lucky if you get off with a tarnished reputation.

While you might see nothing wrong with sharing a picture of you dressed in the latest ripped clothing and holding a bottle of liquor in one hand and a packet of cigarette on the other on social media. However, when looked at from a professional context and against the background of the conservative legal profession, this rather embarrassing pose might put you in bad light.

It may seem harsh for people to judge us this way before they have actually met us, but in the unforgiving world of today where first impressions are the rule, you won’t get the benefit of the doubt to correct a negative image you’ve created.

Even at job interviews, an interviewer who conducts an online search of a candidate, as is their wont nowadays and sees their unflattering digital dossier would no doubt think the worse of them. This might lead to their missing out on a job opportunity of a lifetime. And studies support me on this. A 2015 survey by recruiting software company Jobvite found that 52% of recruiters say they always search candidate’s online profiles in deciding whether to hire them.

An earlier 2013 study by Careerbuilder reveals 43% of hiring managers disqualified applicants based on info found online including provocative photos and posts about alcohol or drug use. This could be the familiar experience of anyone, particularly with young lawyers who leave a trail of negative online content in their wake without looking at the big picture.

Even veteran lawyers are not exempt from this consequence of a poor online reputation. In fact it affects them more since a lawyer’s reputation counts for so much in legal practice. It’s the decider of a firm’s success, and the first prerequisite for acquiring a rapid client base. If they lack this, it’s almost a certainty that their legal careers will tank. Because it destroys trust and credibility between lawyer and client. And if the client doubts your competence, they are not going make any referrals to you from among their contacts. More than the ethical dimension, a lawyer’s online activity could be a real minefield.

It’s encouraging however that lawyers are starting to wake up to this more damaging side to their online life by embarking on what we now know as online reputation management. A chance to redeem yourself and start over on a clean slate if your online profile doesn’t do you justice. With online reputation management, you can clean up any trace of potentially damaging information out on the web linked to you. In time, this would lead to a positive online presence and change whatever poor perception people might have had about you.

If you are a lawyer reading this, I’d say now is as good a time as any to begin this.

Patrick Herbert is the Editor-in-Chief and founder of Law Student Hub. He is an LL.B. Law graduate from the University of Benin, Nigeria. He’s a life enthusiast, a budding writer and internet entrepreneur. Patrick is deeply passionate about law and research and has inspired many with his thought-provoking articles. To get in touch, follow him on social media.

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