Act Like a Professional

Unruly behavior will come back to haunt you. Don't do it on the Internet or in the classroom.

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I'd like to talk about how we conduct ourselves--all of us. In person, on Facebook, when anonymously posting on blogs, through e-mails, text messages, and every other way that we communicate.

As an attorney, your reputation is your most important asset. They told this to me at my law school orientation in 1996 and it's still true. Who will refer cases to the know-it-all in class? Who will tell you about a job opening at their firm if you're known to be an egomaniac, a jerk or are dishonest or lazy? What client will choose you as their attorney if she is turned off by your salty language, by typos in your email, by an unprofessional voicemail greeting, or by what your fellow attorneys  say about you?

Your reputation starts now. You're applying to law school. Badgering the administrative staff of a law school with numerous requests and an unending stream of questions because you think these aren't the "important" people in the office is the fastest way to the "no" pile other than a 138 LSAT score.

[Get more advice from law school admissions officials.]

People talk to each other. People have caller ID. You're not as anonymous as you think you are. Sending an e-mail to a law school using "txt speak" will put you in that same "no" pile. Meeting a representative at a law school forum and not looking her in the eye, shaking her hand, and introducing yourself with confidence will ensure only one thing–she won't care to remember you and you'll have blown your shot at creating a positive impression.

This isn't an easy thing to practice in modern times. Anonymity offers the cloak of safety. The good discussions, even anonymous ones, are well-thought-out, well-reasoned and therefore persuasive. When you leave a comment on a law related—or even law school related—blog and decide to enter the fray of heated discussion, your argument is more credible when you choose your words wisely. People respect that. They stop listening when you name-call. Your credibility is lost when you attack other commentators harshly. Responding defensively to thoughtful comments will not win anyone over. Words are your weapon. Wield them with care and respect—even in disagreement.

There are a lot of unhappy people out there who will provoke you on the Internet. They will make you feel like everyone calls each other "idiots" and "jerks" and that anyone who disagrees with them is not worthy of breathing air. These people are everywhere—in the legal field or not. Though they may provoke you, respond only in a professional manner, or don't respond at all.

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Successful lawyers treat people with respect and civility. It's not a point of weakness. Although some people think lawyers should be bullies, the successful ones make their arguments quietly by knowing the facts of their case and applying the law to those facts. The good lawyers understand that civility is the key to successful practice.

Today's post isn't about how to apply to law school. For those of you expecting my pithy advice and do's and don'ts about law school applications, I ask you to stay tuned for next week's column. But, in the meantime, think about how you treat people. Think about how you want to be treated. Think about the kind of lawyer you want to be. And make that clear in your application, as well as in all of your dealings with others.

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