Career choices and division over Gaza 

An informal collective of lawyers, all from various disciplines, gathered in London last weekend not for a scheduled conference arranged by the Law Society or the Bar Council but to celebrate the 30th birthday for a close friend of mine.

Reaching 30 years of age as a lawyer can be considered as something of a milestone. It is the point where one seems to stop being a ‘young lawyer’ and just becomes ‘a lawyer’. It is the point at which many look back at their careers to date; from their formative studies as undergraduates, to being fresh faced trainees, and slightly disenfranchised ‘newly qualifieds’, and towards what the future might hold. Whether those same solicitors will become grizzled veteran partners remains to be seen.

For many of those I spoke to who are reaching or have already surpassed that landmark age, the traditional model of legal practice no longer appears to excite them as it once did many moons ago when they were idealistic young law students.

The once (in)famous carrot of partnership is not the be-all and end-all of a successful legal career. Instead of the riches that many of them were promised, and certainly craved in their relatively recent youth, the most important issue for them now is in having a real (and not just lip service) work/life balance.

Of course, whether that balance can be obtained within a private practice environment is often dependent on the firm and the practice area to which that solicitor specialises. Those I spoke to with a corporate/commercial or litigation speciality are already contemplating the move in-house.

Twitter ceasefire?

It is saddening that on the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Great War we are once again reminded of the world’s great divisions.

Just as it has divided politicians, the conflict in Gaza has polarised the UK’s legal profession. Among the more cerebral tweets debating whether or not the shelling of Palestinian civilians warrants a trip to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for Israel’s military and political leadership, there are also plenty of partisan tweets condemning or condoning one side or the other. Often these are in a less than diplomatic fashion and chirped by both solicitors and barristers who should perhaps know better.

Lawyers are generally not afraid to poke their collective heads above the parapet to express themselves on issues of legal or moral importance. Gaza is certainly one of those issues. However, while certainly being worthy of discussion, the repercussions of a few ill-judged tweets can result in irreparable harm to the reputation of an individual lawyer and the brand of their firm or chambers.

Twitter’s 140 character limit is perhaps not the place to be conducting a nuanced debate about the ever deepening and bloody crisis in the Middle East. It is not surprising that some lawyers on Twitter have been losing followers left, right and centre as they staple their colours to the mast of either the Palestinian cause or the Israeli campaign. I will admit that I have unfollowed a few legal professionals myself over the last few weeks having found some of their views to be far too dogmatic.

Amid accusations made by some users in the Twittersphere that certain lawyers are ‘terrorist sympathisers’ or ‘Zionists’, firms and chambers are the ones that may ultimately take the biggest hit, despite some Twitter bios stating: “These are my personal views only”.

Stuart Whitwell, joint managing director at brand valuation consultancy Intangible Business, told me that a law firm’s brand reputation is extremely important for its continued success: “If a lawyer tweets about a controversial issue or expresses an extreme point of view, it is very possible that their firm also gets caught up in the issue,” he said.

“For example, if the tweet is included in any news reports on the issue – as is increasingly happening – the firm could be mentioned,” he continued. “If the firm is mentioned in the lawyer’s biography on Twitter, the tweets could be picked up in an internet search for the firm. Even if the tweet is in a personal capacity and the Twitter account is kept very much separate from the wider firm, reputational damage to the firm can be caused.”

Twitter is a fantastic tool to communicate and share ideas, and members of the legal profession are taking to it like ducks to water as a recent exclusive story from SJ’s sister publication, Managing Partner, shows. Though the dangers of social media may appear more obvious to employed solicitors than self-employed barristers, with tensions running so high it would be silly to suggest that even counsel’s business would not be affected by a controversial tweet or two.

Perhaps, just on occasion, we should all think first before tweeting.

This blog was first published in the Solicitors Journal on 6 August 2014 and is reproduced with kind permission.