By Matt Cordell

When I have the opportunity to give advice to law students and young lawyers, one of the things I try to impress upon them is the importance of their reputations, including their “online reputations.”

Usually the comment is quickly met with a knowing nod. Everyone seems to know that their reputation is important. However, having witnessed many lawyers of all ages impair their professional reputations online, I have begun to realize that many of us fail to recognize some aspects of maintaining our online reputations, and I have begun to be much more specific in my advice to younger lawyers.

Older lawyers, I have observed, often seem to understand some of the things that younger lawyers may miss, but older lawyers can have their own blind spots in this area. In this short piece, I would like to describe a few observations about lawyers’ online reputations and suggest that young lawyers and older
lawyers can learn much from one another regarding this topic. (There are, of course, plenty of exceptions to my generational generalizations.)

For many of us, especially those of us who attended law school in North Carolina, our professional reputations began to develop during law school. I often remind law students that their law school classmates form their initial professional network. Their classmates are likely to become their partners, opposing counsel, judges and clients.

I suggest that they will want to be remembered as the friendly, reliable law student who was always prepared and who shared notes freely with deserving classmates; they will not want to be remembered as the John “Bluto” Blutarsky of their law school class (i.e., John Belushi’s character in the cult classic
“Animal House”) or the sharp-elbowed “gunner.”

Some law students and young lawyers seem to be unaware that their social media posts can affect their professional reputations. When the weekend’s party photos are just a click away, the line between one’s professional reputation and one’s personal life can become blurred, or disappear entirely.

Too many young lawyers allow themselves to be photographed or videotaped in unflattering circumstances without realizing that it may affect how others perceive them in a professional context (whether consciously or unconsciously). Older lawyers, by contrast, tend to be more perspicacious in
their social media activity. Perhaps age brings wisdom in these matters.

I have also observed that young lawyers seem more attuned to their online presence when it comes to ratings and reviews. Young lawyers tend to be conscious of what is being said of them on online rating and review websites, and tend to be more proactive in engaging with these sites.

For example, young lawyers tend to be more likely to “claim” their Avvo profiles and ensure that the information presented there is accurate, because Avvo profiles tend to get remarkable priority in search engine results. Older lawyers seem more likely to dismiss sites like Avvo as meaningless (perhaps because Avvo’s ratings system is open to criticism).

Older lawyers also seem less likely to recognize how a clunky website or free email account (e.g., that old AOL account) can cause a client or prospective client to lose confidence in them.

The topic of online reputation management seems to be an area that is ripe for intergenerational learning. Older lawyers can share the wisdom that comes from experience and young lawyers can share their technological savvy. I hope this article will spark conversations here and there between older lawyers and
their younger counterparts. We all have more to learn from one another, both online and offline.

Matthew A. “Matt” Cordell serves as the chair of the Young Lawyers Division, which is composed of more than 6,400 young lawyers and law students. He works as in-house counsel to VF Corporation, where his practice focuses primarily on technology, privacy and data security law. He recently moved to Greensboro from Raleigh. Follow him on Twitter @MattCordell.

This article appeared originally in the May 2017 edition of North Carolina Lawyer.