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09 March 2012 14:07

Top legal blogger - and BigLaw trainee-to-be - Ashley Connick has hit the jackpot and got a piece published on The Lawyer on internet stalking by law firms. He's a sensible and clever chap, serious and correct on many things (not his slavish devotion to Chelsea and its roster of grotesques, but many other things). You should read the whole piece here - and I have no doubt that Ashley would engage with you on twitter too, should you have anything to say.

He's blogging on the "right" of law firms to check out potential and current employees' social media profiles (that's Facebook, Twitter and the like, grandad). He likes to think they shouldn't do it, and hopes that they don't - but admits he can see why they might. I think his approach is reasonable and correct, but I was more taken by the view of Jon Harman (a College of Law media guru, who tweets as @colmmu), who has said he believes:

"employers have no right to undertake ’cyber-surveillance’ on candidates or employees. He [Harman] has said to me [Connick] many times that he would not wish to work for an organisation that would choose to use such a method during its recruitment process, and would not consider putting an employee or prospective employee’s name into a search engine."

Is this noble? Yes. And naive? Definitely. Because everyone, probably including the College of Law (with the notable exception of Jon, obviously), is prone to a bit of googling. I have no idea about the legal position - I only practised in the City - but let's cut to the practical reality about your electronic footprint.

By putting up your personal details, your photographs, the stuff you "like", I reckon you are volunteering your right to privacy. For free, with nothing in return other than the opportunity to look at your friends' Instagram snaps of them dancing at other friends' weddings (that's the thin end - such is my advanced age, I'm now stuck looking at effin' baby scans). You might as well pin up one of those sexy cards in a phonebox. Even my own father - brain the size of a planet - has moved from sending roguely capitalised and unpunctuated text messages to constantly tweeting. Your life is writ large on the internet; it's all your fault, and it's never too early to start worrying about it.

Possibly uniquely, Pinsent Masons has a big, trendy disclaimer expressly stating the firm does not stalk people across the internet when it comes to hiring decisions. Personally, I think they're protesting a bit too much, but see no reason why I shouldn't take them at their word. Nope, none at all.

But all this really means is that every other firm doesn't just reserve the right, but is likely to exercise it, too. They're all panicked about their reputations, which rest heavily on the "personal brand" (ugh) of staff. One slip, one tiny foot out of place, and you're in Shearman & Sterling G4 Dubai roasting hell. If you've got a track record of things which could have the potential to embarrass a law firm (and it's a very low bar), you're not exactly going to stick it on an application form, are you? And whilst drunkeness is probably fine (I saw some extraordinary things in my time), your prospective employer wants to be sure there's no evidence of you bitching about work (like, omg lol!!!), sieg heil-ing (see Burley, Aidan, the case of), or bumming a goat. Or just being a public school boy idiot - that's like kryptonite to your average law firm.

Matthew of RollOnFriday fame is always bullish about this stuff. His advice is stark - delete every profile you have. Leave no trace. That's probably a bit nuclear. So just be safe, kids - ramp up your privacy settings to 11. And then get back to posting photos of your own arse.

It's well-known that firms like their trainees to bond before they start their training contracts, if only to make sure they'll all get on when proofing bundles of photocopying on 3am. So they stick a credit card behind a trendy bar (in my day, it was £50 quid at the snooker hall), and tiptoe out of the room in the hope the children will play together nicely.

One night, a future trainee cohort got a bit tipsy. The booze was rapidly drained, and twitter started to burn holes in pockets. Cue the inevitable stream of late-night tweets about what a great bunch all the trainees were, just how much free booze had been provided - and how much of it had been imbibed. Wot larks! The next day, cue hasty backtracking and deletion of tweets. OK, the firm in question is nice and friendly (and not adverse to getting the legal media sozzled on its tab). It probably wouldn't have given a toss about the inebriation. But in this climate the partners would have suddenly sat up had the Daily Mail written a piece about 23 year olds bragging about getting pissed in a posh City bar, funded by a City law firm. It's not fair, it's probably not right. But it's unavoidable. So much easier to be boring.

If you've got something awfully incriminating - and public - on your Facebook profile (and it does need to be truly awful), or have sent some ill-thought out tweets, you can probably expect your training contract application to be politely and quietly binned. If you're lucky, you'll get a standard-form letter - "many more high-quality applicants than we could possibly interview" etc etc ad infinitum. Take today's news about the Newcastle University law student who has admitted sending Stan Collymore racist abuse on Twitter. He might have been a brilliant, hard working City lawyer, a star partner in the making. But today, his career is over. Well, maybe Pollyanna Pinsents will still take him on.


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