Monday, September 29, 2014

Teaching eProfessionalism to Law Students with Social Media


I teach a one credit course entitled Social Media and the Law. In this course, I cover the use of social media in litigation, social media as evidence, the use of social media in the courtroom, by judges, for jury selection, and discuss the ethics issues that might come up for lawyers when they use social media.

However, the main focus of the course addresses the law students' use of social media themselves. This is where the teaching challenges arise. Most of my law students already have profiles on the main social media applications: Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+ and a few play with Pinterest, Instagram, YouTube and others. In most cases they have had these accounts since undergrad and have not yet addressed what they will do with their profiles on these sites once they pass the bar and become legal professionals. 

For my course, we dive into the practical set-up for each of the main social media applications. We start with the privacy and security settings and then build out their profiles in a professional manner. There is a small assignment in each application so that I can see that they have learned how to navigate it. In many cases they are taking existing profiles and refining them as befits a professional. The feedback I have received from students is that these exercises are valuable to them not only for their future professional work, but for interviews and the job hunt while they are in school. Most of my students in this course are 3Ls. 

The trick with teaching social media to law students is that it is a personal choice the students have to make about finding the right balance between their personal lives, their friends and family and hobbies, and their soon-to-be professional lives. I give them my own choices in the use of social media as an example and teach them how to use the settings in each application to build up walls between their two worlds.

Some students dive straight into the idea of sharing their thoughts on the law and their work with the world. Other students flat out refuse to join Facebook for the course, but will have a professional online presence on LinkedIn. For personal reasons, including sometimes domestic violence concerns or for religious reasons, students will not want to join these public applications and want to try to remain anonymous online and protect their privacy. Those students still have to complete an assignment to show me they understand the use of privacy settings on the social media applications. Whether they use it or not, their clients may. And many of them do not realize that some branded networks, such as Avvo, may create online profiles for them after they pass the bar whether they want them or not. I think they need to understand how these applications work regardless with hands-on experience - to protect themselves and their clients. When we cover the material related to the use of social media as evidence, it also makes a lot more sense if they've explored the applications first. 

This is one of my favorite courses to teach to law students because of the challenge of keeping up with the changes in social media and because of the way it lets me work with students to help them find a balance between their personal online interactions and their professional careers. It is not the most academic course in terms of case law to work through, but we do have fascinating discussions about ethics and what eprofessionalism means to them.

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