Voiceover: LSAC LawHub®. Explore. Prepare. Succeed. LawHub Webinar Series. Prelaw professionalism in the virtual and physical world. Recorded March 31, 2022.
Collin Takita: Hello, everyone, and welcome to the LawHub® Webinar Series. My name is Collin Takita, and I’m the director of prelaw learning here at LSAC. Today, I’m very excited that you have all joined us, because we’re covering a topic which I personally love, and one which I think will be helpful to you today, tomorrow, and, frankly, every day of your future in the legal profession and the legal community. Today, we’re talking about professionalism. Now, professionalism is foundational. The skills, and etiquette, and mentality that you’ll begin to hone now, as a prelaw student, will actually carry over throughout your legal education and professional career. That is why I’m thrilled to introduce you today to the two amazing people leading our conversation. First, we have with us today Dean Reyes Aguilar. He’s the associate dean for admission and financial aid at the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law. And, in addition to Dean Aguilar, we also have Dean Preston Nicholson . He’s the assistant dean for admissions at Washburn University School of Law. It’s great to see you both. Before I hand things over to you, I do want to make one quick note about Q&A. So, we will be having a formal Q&A period at the end of the webinar today, so during the second half of the program. However, if you have questions throughout the program, I do encourage you to submit them via the Q&A. We’ll do our best to answer those questions, as many of those questions as possible. OK, so with that, Dean Reyes, Dean Aguilar, I’m sorry, Dean Aguilar and Dean Nicholson, I’m going to hand it over to you, and you can take it away.
Dean Preston Nicholson: Wonderful, thank you so much, Collin, and welcome, everyone attending today. I hope to have a enriching, wonderful conversation with everyone and Reyes as well, and we will hopefully share some wisdom and advice for you to take forward in your prelaw career. It’s important to keep in mind, under the guise of professionalism, that your legal career and reputation as a lawyer begins the moment you start taking steps to apply to law school. So, it begins now. The legal profession is a helping profession. Your professional role will be dedicated to the service of others, your clients, and anyone that you represent. Consider it your responsibility, as individuals exploring law school, to treat others with respect, maintain humility, and be a positive representative of the legal profession to all that you interact with. The legal profession has a culture and tradition that can be conservative and rather formal. So, part of being a professional exploring law school is considering that, and maintaining the norms of the places where you enter, and thinking about what it means to be a professional in whatever setting that you’re exploring. Dean Aguilar, what are your thoughts?
Dean Reyes Aguilar: Thanks, Dean Nicholson, and thank you, Collin, for your kind introduction. I, too, want to express how excited I am to be presenting today. I think this is an important topic, especially in this day and age. And those of you who are in kind of this prelaw stage of your lives, or early in your college careers, perhaps, this is an ideal time to start thinking affirmatively about this, and then start developing practices and a culture in your life that will help kind of encourage the appropriate civility and professionalism in how you conduct yourself. And one of the reasons for that is, this is going to go into your career. As Dean Nicholson mentioned, your career starts today. If this is the first video you’ve watched on prelaw and considering law school, you’re on the path now. And, in preparing for that path, understand that professionalism and civility are tools for effective advocacy. They are by no means any signs of weakness, and, moreover, more and more jurisdictions have established guidelines and rules for professionalism and civility that generally state lawyers shall advocate the legitimate interest of their clients, but they must do so without reflecting any ill will that their clients may have for their adversaries. This is part of that rule of law that our country so dearly depends on, and how we conduct ourselves. And even if you have clients or others who may be calling upon you as an attorney, to have that ill will exemplified in how you treat opposing counsel or opposing parties, as a lawyer, you should treat all other counsel and parties, judges, witnesses, and other participants in these proceedings and this administration of justice in a courteous and dignified manner. This system of justice we have deserves that dignity, and lawyers, to that end, should be advising their clients that this civility, courtesy, and fair dealings are expected of all that engage with our system.
And so, these practices and this culture of civility and professionalism are tools for effective advocacy, as I mentioned. They’re not signs of weakness. The clients don’t really have a right, as they engage you as their lawyer, to ask that their lawyers abuse anyone or engage in any offensive or improper conduct. I mentioned that jurisdictions have started to promulgate rules about this, and I’ll ask Collin to, if he could, post to the chat the three largest jurisdictions in terms of the number of attorneys in these jurisdictions, and their either rules or guidelines that they’ve established for professionalism. This is out of California , New York (PDF) , and Texas . So, I think that’ll be helpful for you to reference in the future, to see what’s expected of attorneys who are in the practice. And so, with this introduction, Collin and I want to segue into the circumstances that, in your current lives, as students, you should consider the civil and professional behavior that you’ll be engaging in. And we’re going to talk about that in two broad areas.
The first is in in-person live interactions that you’ll be having with those on your campuses, and as you interact with law schools. And then the second is the interactions that you’re going to have through the uses of technology, whether it be engaging that technology in your communication with schools or others on your campus, or just kind of the social media that exists out there and how you are now starting to kind of portray yourself out in the public on that platform. And so, with that, Preston, let’s start the conversation about in-person live interactions.
Dean Nicholson: Thank you so much, Reyes. I love this portion of the presentation, because this is such a big part of this path toward law school, the personal, in-person interactions that you have. And please know we could spend an hour on every single topic we cover today, so this is going to be a very, very broad overview from 30,000 feet. But, of course, we’re both open for dialogue after the presentation. You can find our email addresses on our schools’ websites, and there’s also many resources available to you from the Law School Admission Council to help you navigate these issues.
First, I want to touch on where you are right now and how you may interact with the faculty, the staff, the administration, and fellow students at whatever school you’re attending right now, because that can play a big role in your future. You may think that there’s billions of people walking the Earth right now, but higher education, as a realm, is a relatively small world, and the impact that you make on the campus where you’re currently studying can carry forward into your professional life. So, as you’re thinking about your reputation at the undergraduate level, or graduate school, or wherever you may be, those interactions that you have with faculty, staff, and administration can play a key role. Just always remember, treat everyone with respect, treat everyone with courtesy, allow grace, and also just make sure that you are being mindful that anyone you talk to, whether it be the president of the university, or whether it be the administrative associate in your major’s career office, everyone that you talk to can play a role in your professional development and your path moving forward. So, treat everyone with respect and courtesy as you’re approaching them.
One specific thing to think of, as you’re working with your faculty and treating them with respect, is you may need letters of recommendation for this law school process. Every applicant to law school is required to submit at least one, or two, or three letters of recommendation, depending on the schools to which you’re applying and what their specific rules are. So, as you’re navigating toward that application process, you’re going to need those letters of recommendation. And, although you can get them from many sources, both faculty, non-faculty, academic, non-academic, those letters of recommendation that you choose for yourself, the individuals who write those letters need to know you and need to have a positive impression of you. So, as you’re thinking about your professional career starting now, those interactions that you have with individuals can play a key role, not only to position yourself and to practice those professionalism skills, but, very specifically, if you need a letter of recommendation from someone someday. So, as you’re thinking about that, you also want to think about those interactions you’re eventually going to have with law schools. When you get closer to the application process, you’re going to be starting conversations with various law schools - at least, we hope you do. That’s also part of being a professional, is engaging with the law schools you’re considering and really asking good questions of them, and really doing that investigation as to not only what school is right for you, but also whether law school as a field is right for you and whether the legal profession is right for you. And a great way you can figure that out is through conversation.
So, as you are communicating with law schools, it’s important as well to maintain those ideals of professionalism, and humility, and respect, and you’re going to sense that this is a recurring theme through our presentation today. And they say that you have to repeat something 10 times for it to stick in, so you’re going to hear us repeat these common themes throughout the day, and as we tie them to our specific topics. So, one way that you may interact with law schools are at recruiting events. So, as you attend college fairs, law school fairs, or events that are being hosted on specific law school campuses. So, as you’re talking with schools, you want to be respectful of the person that you’re talking with. You want to actively listen to what they tell you about their school, and the questions that they’re answering for you, and you want to follow that up with information as well that will allow them to get to know you better as a candidate, and allow them to connect with you. Because not only is that the right thing to do as you’re going through this process, but also it could help you as you’re being admitted to law schools. Because if an admissions officer has had a good interaction with you, and they remember you after that interaction, that can pay, often, dividends as you’re entering that admissions process. If they remember you, that can play a big role. So, as you’re attending recruiting events and talking to schools, be sure to be an active listener, be sure to be actively engaged in the conversation, but also ask appropriate questions.
There’s some research you can do before you speak with law schools that will allow you to actually focus your time better when you’re talking with those schools on topics that may be of more interest to you. The basic research you can do includes: What’s the school’s median LSAT? Where is the school located, if you’re at a large law school fair? Questions related to what specific programs they offer, or maybe what clinics they offer. Of course, it’s always a good idea to ask for more information, if you want more information on the specific programs. But having a general idea, a general sense of what their median LSAT is, what their median GPA is, where they’re located, maybe what their tuition rate is, whether they’re public or private, having that initial information that you’ve researched before entering that conversation can be very good for you, because then it allows you to focus that conversation on other issues that aren’t readily apparent in their view book, or on their website, or on paper. So, be mindful of that.
Now, as you’re attending these recruiting events, you also want to think, in a professional sense, well, what should I wear? How should I present myself? And although law schools are not attending these events with preconceived notions of exactly how you’re going to look, there are some good judgment calls you can make as you are attending these events. Before you attend an event, either at a law school, or a fair, or any other recruiting event, look in the mirror and ask yourself: Do I feel confident in what I’m wearing? Because if you feel confident in what you’re wearing, there’s a good likelihood that it’s an appropriate level of dress and would be respected by everyone who sees you. But also, if you’re confident in what you’re wearing, that’s going to come through in the conversations that you’re having, and that’s going to make those conversations seem like you’re more invested in them, because you feel confident as you’re having them. But as you’re also thinking about what you’re wearing, you want to make sure that your clothes, you want to make sure they’re clean, if you can. If they need ironing, you want to make sure to do that before you join the event. I’m being somewhat glib, but, overall, just give yourself a once-over, and make sure that you look your definition of presentable, and make sure you feel confident in what you’re wearing. As we mentioned briefly earlier, the legal profession can be somewhat of a conservative, formal profession. It doesn’t mean you have to wear formal clothes to these events, but you also want to find that happy medium. You don’t want to go the opposite side and wear things that are considered completely informal. I’m being vague because, of course, I’m in no position to dictate exactly what your wardrobe is. So many things go into play when talking about wardrobe, but seeking advice of friends and family members can also help you in this regard as well.
Some things to think about as you’re attending law school events on campuses: You may attend an event where you go on a campus visit, an individual campus visit, or you may attend an admitted student day, or an open house at a law school’s campus. So, as you’re thinking about these events that you attend on law schools’ campuses, I like to tell people, this is just one small nugget here, but I like to tell people, assume that there’s only one parking spot left on that campus, and assume it’s at the very far end of campus, and assume that there’s construction happening on campus. And the reason I say that is because you want to time when you leave your house in a way to where you make sure you’re on time for whatever event you’re attending. Whether you have have a one-on-one individual appointment with the law school, or whether you’re attending an event at a law school, those things start at a particular time, and part of being a professional is respecting that start time and being there at that start time, or just a little bit early.
Now, on the flip side, if you’re attending an individual event on a campus, you do want to be mindful of that timing, but you don’t want to show up 30 to 35 minutes prior to that appointment as well, because there may be an appointment right before you, or there may be other things that the admissions dean needs to work on before they meet with you. So, showing up early could also throw a wrench in their plans. But, in general, you want to time it to where you can show up at an event on time. You also, as you’re attending events at schools, get the directions beforehand, and ask questions of the school if you’re unsure of the campus and you need to find where to go. Some campuses can be quite large, and there’s maybe a specific parking garage that makes sense for that specific law school. There could be, as I mentioned earlier, construction on campus. It’s okay to contact a law school prior to your visit and ask these sort of questions, so that you have all the information that you need before you visit that campus.
And, as I conclude my talk about, sort of, those in-person interactions with individuals, as we have other categories we’re going to discuss here, and other things will come up as we continue, I want to remind you that every person you interact with at a law school event could play a role in your eventual admission to that law school. I mentioned this briefly earlier, but every employee of a law school has some say in the admissions process. They may not sit on that admissions committee specifically, but if you call a law school and, just to be blunt, you’re rude with the person who answers the phone, you have no idea who that person who answered the phone has access to, who they have the ear of in this process. So, if they’ve left that conversation with a negative impression, obviously that’s not going to be the reason why you’re denied to a school, but that could be part of it, that could be made known to other individuals in the admissions office, and other professors, that, “Hey, I’ve had a very unpleasant interaction “with this person.” So, as you’re going through this process, as you’re attending events, as you’re visiting with law schools, remember that every person you interact with can have some role in this process. So, it just goes back down to the core of what we’ve been talking about: Treat everyone with respect, treat everyone with kindness, treat everyone with grace, be professional, and have a pleasant conversation. That’s the end of it. So, those are my very 30,000-feet thoughts about in-person live interactions. Reyes, what did I miss in my conversation?
Dean Aguilar: Not much, Preston. I thought you did a great job. I just want to kind of highlight, from not 30,000 feet, but from the older, gray-haired guy perspective. For those of you who are currently in school, and perhaps in your spring semester of your first year, I’m going to hopefully give you some kind of nuts-and-bolts things to think about as you navigate yourself through the next three years of college in preparation for law school. One is that, alluding to what Preston talked about in interacting with others on your campus, especially if it’s faculty or administrators, or perhaps somebody in the age range of your parents or older. I think the safest thing to do in talking to folks is referencing their title as a form of respect. That is something that happens in the courts. That’s going to prepare you for dealing with senior partners in law firms, and things like that. So, I think one of the defaults you should have in mind is referring to folks, as I described, as either “Professor” or their administrative title. And if they’re comfortable with you talking with them using a first name, then that’s great. If not, then you, at least, have not either offended them or sought to kind of make a relationship that may be a little bit uncomfortable for them. I think this goes to the idea of, this is a more formal and conservative tradition, and getting practice early can be helpful for that.
The other thing I want to mention, or just add to, is, in the engagement of others, accentuate the positive. Look for those opportunities, as Preston alluded to, where you can leave a positive impression about yourself and how you conduct yourself with those who may have an effect on any decisions that may be made, whether it’s regarding your file, or the case that you’ll be representing a client on. I think discretion is a big part of the process, both in admissions and in the court proceedings. And so, if a client has regularly, or if an attorney has regularly, been late in showing up for court or in the filings of their documents, and then they ask the court for an extension on something, and either opposing counsel or even the judge may feel that if this is just a pattern of behavior that’s prolonging this process, it doesn’t make sense to make it any worse. And so, that may, with that discretion in front of them, be something that could negatively impact you if you’re constantly bringing into question your timeliness or respectfulness to the court.
Conversely, if you’re always on time, always respectful for the court, working with that very civil manner in your presence, the court and opposing counsel may be more willing to give you the opportunity to be granted an extension, or have exceptions to how, occasionally, the process will allow for it. And so, accentuate the positive and seek to have that positive effect on how you are viewed and how your clients will be treated, and that can begin with your experience in college.
The next thing I want to begin the discussion on is in in-person interactions, phone conversations. While I think there is more digital communication that’s occurring in this day and age, especially in light of our coming out of the pandemic, telephone conversations can be a big and quick way to get information, or check up on your file, or begin an interaction with someone. And so, think about how you’re presenting yourself in that platform or that medium. I like to begin with something as simple as a voice greeting, or voicemail. If a person was trying to reach you and they get your voicemail, think a little bit about what your greeting sounds like. I must say that I do regularly call candidates if I have questions about their file, or even after admissions, wanting to discuss things about a campus visit, those sorts of things. And when I get a voicemail greeting that sounds like they’re at a raging party or they’ve either kind of really turned up the volume on a ringtone they like, and they’re speaking out over that song or that ringtone in a way that it’s hard to understand, that doesn’t present you as a dignified person. I don’t want to come off as the old curmudgeon, saying, “You can’t have fun in your life.” And so, you’re currently in college, and I think it’s OK to have fun in how you present yourself to the world and things like that. But as you approach the time when you’re looking for jobs, or applying to law school toward your senior year of college, look at how you’re presenting yourself in those kinds of communications, because it can be a bit off-putting.
And then, just a word to the wise, activate your voicemail. There’s been times where I’ve had a last-minute call to somebody on the wait list, or we need a quick decision from somebody and try to get a hold of them, get no answer, and then, when it says their voicemail is off, we really can’t communicate with them. So, I would encourage you to activate your voicemail, or keep an eye on it to see if it’s full and if voice messages could be left. In regard to communicating and calling schools, you need to think a little bit about how to follow up on that. I think it’s important to find a balance showing interest, genuine interest, and concern for how your file is processing, but also not go over to the point of almost being considered a stalker, or somebody who’s badgering the decision-makers. This is, here again, accentuating the positive. So, if you have a genuine question about your file, or where it is in the process, I would begin with looking at your status checker or seeing if there’s something online. It’s almost like researching schools before you go for a campus visit or go to a law fair. See if there’s a place where you can gather the information to see where that status is, and if it seems to conflict a little bit with your understanding of where you should be, don’t hesitate to call and ask about those sorts of things. And then just be mindful of how often you are calling to check up on things. Often, schools will give you the information you need to know how the process will be paced if, for example, when you apply, and when typically candidates will start hearing about admissions decisions, or, if you’re on the wait list, when those decisions may start to be made.
So, inform yourself before you start calling the schools. And then, using courtesy and treating with respect those who you interact with on the phone, regardless of whether it happens to be the receptionist who picks it up, or, if the reception is off, it may be the dean who picks it up, but they’re just answering the phone to fill in for the lunch hour. You never know who actually is picking up the phone sometimes. So, just default to treating everybody respectfully on that. And then, if you are called as part of the admissions process, or have requested to be called as part of the admissions process or the application process, to hear from a current student or an alum, or you’ve called the school to ask a question and they call you back, and they leave a message, is it appropriate in returning the calls? I think here, again, use good judgment. Some folks are calling just to congratulate you, and then leave open the opportunity to ask questions if you would like, and, by all means, definitely return the call if you have questions about their perspective, or things that they can offer you in their information about the law school, but you don’t necessarily have to return every single call, unless you’ve been asked to return the call. Often, it’ll be a question or a follow-up associated with that.
Preston alluded to this, and I’ve alluded to this a couple times, a big part of this is using kind of good judgment as you can. And, when in doubt, perhaps ask others, in terms of, does this make sense, or does it appear that I’m being off-putting or calling a little too much if I make this call again? Use others to help you along the way. We’re now going to transition to technology and interactions through the use of technology, and Preston’s going to talk a little bit about the use of Zoom in your interactions. Zoom is a big part of this process since the beginning of the pandemic, and I think there’s a lot of things that you can do to help yourself in using that platform.
Dean Nicholson: Yes, Zoom is here to stay, everyone. The interactions you’ll have with law schools may be a mix of in-person, but also these Zoom-type seminars, webinars, presentations, things of that nature. So, being mindful of how to present yourself on camera and how to treat Zoom when you are attending these events can be very helpful for that professionalism image that you’re presenting to law schools and in the legal profession. So, the first thing to think about is how you look on camera, and when you’re on Zoom, you want to make sure you’re dressed appropriately. Again, we can’t define what “appropriate” is, but you want to make sure that you’re dressed appropriately. Because, even though we can see from probably the belly button up most of the time, being very appropriately dressed is step number one. You wouldn’t believe how many, I mean, I’m sure you could look online, how many snafus people have had on Zoom in the last year and a half, where maybe they’ve not worn pants on Zoom, and that’s been able to be seen by the watchers of their Zoom. So, just, I guess, I never thought in a professionalism world, I would have to advise people to wear pants, but here we are.
So, think about what you’re wearing when you’re on Zoom, first of all. And, really, how you portray yourself on camera can play a huge role. So, as you’re on camera, the rule is in fourths. So, people typically say that the top fourth of your camera screen or video screen should not be consumed with you, and the bottom three fourths should. So, as you’re thinking about your posture when you’re sitting on Zoom, and how much of your body is in the camera frame, that’s a good tip to keep in mind, is about one fourth at the top of your video feed should be clear space, and not you specifically. When you’re thinking about lighting for Zoom, experts typically recommend that you put lights in front of you, that you have front-facing light as you’re on camera, because if you are on a Zoom feed and it’s completely dark, or very, very dark, it’s hard to see you when we’re chatting with you on Zoom, and we don’t want that. We’d like to see you, if it’s an interaction that’s appropriate for you to be on camera. So, check your lighting prior to getting on Zoom to make sure that we can see the features of your face, and make sure that you have this positive, delightful aura around you, because that can play a huge role. I’m very impressed with Reyes’ lighting in his office right now, as you’ve seen him on camera. That’s bright light, but you can see his face very well, and it’s nice, and it’s inviting, and we feel more connected to him because we can see him. So, think about that as you’re on Zoom: Make sure your lighting is OK. And then, as you think about your background when you’re on Zoom, sometimes people like to put on specific backgrounds, sometimes they like to not have backgrounds on their screen, and that’s a personal choice of yours. No one’s going to dictate that you have to have a background or don’t have a background. If you choose to not have a background, make sure the space behind you is clean, relatively clutter-free, if you can do that, or visually appealing. And these are just recommendations, these aren’t hard and fast rules. No one has set rules regarding Zoom yet, but just professionalism recommendations.
Try to find a space where it’s visually appealing behind you if you choose not to use a background. If you choose to use a background, you want to make sure the imagery on the background is appropriate. I think we all had fun, at the beginning of the pandemic, where we put on backgrounds of our favorite TV show, where we would do funny memes as our background. We’ve experimented with the background function. But, as you are interacting with law schools and fellow individuals on your undergrad campuses, think about what that background image is and make sure that you feel that it portrays you in a positive light and in a professional light. Solid-color backgrounds are always good, or some of the templates that Zoom actually provides can be good ones as well, but use your personal judgment on that. I’m not an expert at green screens. I don’t use one, but if you’re using a green screen, I think a tip is not to wear green while you’re using the green screen. Again, I’m not an expert, so I will defer to allowing you to research that one on your own, but just make sure that you are presenting yourself well on camera.
Typically, it’s always good advice to be muted at the beginning of a meeting that you enter, or a presentation, or a workshop, or a webinar that you’re entering. Sometimes these specific workshops and webinars will lay out rules for you before you enter as to whether your camera should be on or off and whether your mic should be muted or not. So, follow those rules and make sure you’re aware of those rules, but a safe default is always to enter a room with a muted mic, and to unmute it whenever you start conversation or whether you initially introduce yourself, if it’s a one-on-one meeting. The camera on versus camera off question, I think, is the hot debate of the last two years regarding Zoom. So, I don’t think we have a clear, 100 percent answer there. I, personally, like to see cameras on, because I like to see who I’m talking with. Now, for sure, if you’re in a one-on-one meeting, the camera needs to be on, if at all possible. If you’re having camera issues that prevent you from going on, letting that be known to the person on the other end of the line as soon as you start the meeting is the very courteous to do, let them know that you’re having camera issues. But if you’re able to turn your camera on and you’re entering a one-on-one Zoom meeting or a small-group Zoom meeting, having that camera on, in my opinion, is the right thing to do, and some may disagree with me, but I think that’s the way to go. If you’re in a large webinar or a large presentation with multiple people in the Zoom room with you, it’s not as necessary to begin that meeting with your camera on. However, you do want to follow the advice of that particular webinar as to what they’re looking for, camera on versus camera off.
Make sure to stay attentive as you’re attending these Zoom meetings, because we can see you if your camera is on. So, doing other things, excessive yawning, looking off, start playing on your phone, we can tell. And some people try to be very sly and play on their phone just off camera, but then we can see the phone in your glasses. So many of those things happen, so just be attentive. The professional thing to do is to be attentive when you’re in Zoom sessions.
And, finally, that chat function is there for you, but know that if a meeting is being recorded, the person recording the meeting can get a log of that chat when the meeting is done. So, if you’re using private chat to talk with your fellow prelaw club friends in the chat as you’re meeting with the law school, and you’re making maybe inappropriate comments or something like that, the person who’s hosting the meeting, if they’re recording it, can get a log of that chat when it’s all done. So, make sure that that professionalism that we’ve been talking about all hour extends to how you use the chat function in Zoom as well.
Sometimes webinars will have Q&As, like today. So, being mindful of asking your questions in the Q&A, as opposed to the chat, if that’s what you’re directed to do. So, figuring that out and navigating that can be helpful in the long run, but, at the end of the day, chat can be a great way to ask questions if you don’t want to come on camera or don’t want to use your voice to ask questions, or if it’s noisy where you are and turning on your mic would be distracting for the other attendees. So, feel free to use that chat to ask those questions. So, that’s Zoom in a nutshell, I’m sure, as we continue to use Zoom, it will evolve, and the etiquette rules regarding Zoom will evolve. But let’s talk about the thing that we’ve been using for much longer, and will continue to use: email. Reyes, what are your thoughts regarding email?
Dean Aguilar: You hit the nail on the head, I think, Preston. We’re still figuring out Zoom a little bit, and it’s fair enough to ask questions and err on the side of conservatism in some of the things, but email has been around for a good while, and I think there is some etiquette out there. The rules are easier to find, and I think I’ll begin this part of the discussion by acknowledging, if you’re having email discussions with peers and others that you are able to comfortably be informal with, it’s one thing, but if you’re engaging in conversations and communications with your college professors, folks who you may be looking to in the future for letters of recommendation, the law schools themselves, there’s some basic rules to always be mindful of. And then, also, to think about, as you’re approaching that time when you’re applying to law schools, maybe do a little bit of an audit on your email.
My first one I’ll begin with is your email address. I don’t see this as often now, but when email was kind of in its infancy, I would often see very inappropriate email address names. People were being kind of cute when they were setting up their aol.com or msn.com older web addresses, and they’d be kind of surprising to me when I’d be typing in that address, where I’d look at that contact address on an application form, and just be aware of how that reads. When you’re applying to law school, think of it as if you were applying for your first law job, and would you like your future supervisor to know this much about you in terms of how you identify yourself in an email address name?
Simple way to deal with it is, maybe about the time you’re starting to graduate from law school, is get a new email address and have it be kind of just your name, something simple, something a little bit more formal. Addressing folks in email communications. I think it’s almost like just looking at more formal communications in writing letters. I, personally, think you should address others you don’t know, because you can’t have that face-to-face interaction with them on the email, as a title, or name, or something like that. Don’t default to calling them by their first name. That it can be a little bit off-putting. Just kind of like referring to an older professor the first day of class by their first name. They may find that a little bit off-putting. I’ll acknowledge that that may change from region to region in the U.S., and from school to school. But here, again, we’re approaching this from the more conservative, formal traditions of law. I think you will be getting a hint from somebody if you have an email communication with them, and you, let’s say, accidentally refer to them by their first name in the first email that you send, and, in their reply, they refer to you with a more formal salutation: Mr., Ms., Mx., and then your last name. That’s a hint to you that they would prefer that they would be addressed by their title, or Mr., or Ms., or Mx. Long emails or short emails? I think email is still that process in the application process and in communications with folks on college campuses that try to keep them as succinct as possible, not a litany of questions. Make it a link that people are encouraged to respond and not have to sit and think about how are they going to draft an answer to this. And that’s really my personal opinion.
There may be times that it’s more appropriate for a longer email. Think twice about whether you need to send that longer email, or you can just make a phone call and have a longer conversation on the phone, or have a meeting if the email is something that you’re considering that would be long. And then, replying to emails, think about what is being asked of you in the reply for an email. If you are being asked to respond in some way, whether it’s an invitation to an event, whether it’s as simple as a scholarship offer, think about the responses and the transactional nature of what that communication may be like. And so, you understand, as you go back and forth, that it’s not something you want to put yourself into a defensive position about, or the other person that you’re communicating with. I think, if it’s going to lend itself to that, perhaps a conversation may be more helpful about that, so you can get a sense of tone and the position that another has.
I think that’s one of the difficulties, especially these days, with the use of technology, and you don’t have that view of the person’s face or their body language, and, at most, you have either capitalization, or grammar, or punctuation to try and convey feelings that may be better done in a telephone or face-to-face meeting. So, in replying to emails, knowing what you’re replying to, and in what way you’re seeking to reply. I don’t know if you have any other comments on the email transactions, Preston, but I know that we also want to talk, we’ve had some questions on social media that I’ve seen pop up through Q&A. I don’t know if you want to segue right into that.
Dean Nicholson: Yeah, I think you did a great job with email. I echo everything that you said. It’s important to give that email a once-over before you click send, just to make sure that it represents you in the best light and that it is grammar-free, and has good sentence structure, and all those good things as well. So, as we talk about social media, the fun world of social media, it transcends age. Everyone’s on it. Every person you interact with is going to probably on be on some form of social media, and there may even be new social media platforms that pop up before you’re ready to apply to law school. The hot ones that are really active now may burgeon into new ones before we start this process. So, the overall thing to keep in mind is that your image is being represented on social media. Whether your sites are completely locked down and private, or whether they’re completely public, your image is being displayed in things as small as your profile picture, or your screen name, or anything else, things that you like with your social media profile, whatever it may be. Your image is being displayed for the world to see, in even small nuggets or in grand schemes. So, being mindful of that, and being mindful that your professionalism life is tied to your social media is something to keep in mind.
Again, as we said earlier, we don’t want to make this not fun for people in the world, but you have to be mindful of your social media presence. So, we’ve seen stories far and wide of individuals who have histories on their social media of things that don’t represent them in the best light, and those things coming back into play. Now, by and large, admissions officers at law schools are not doing deep dives into students’ social medias. We just don’t have the time. But we can be aware that a student’s social media account exists in many ways. I know I, for example, when I send an email to a student,
I’ve sent emails to students on my work computer, and that email address that I send an email to might be tied to that student’s social media accounts, and then that social media account will suddenly pop up as a suggested friend for me, because all the algorithms come into play, which I’m far too not intelligent to know how those work, but the algorithms come into play, and Facebook or Twitter sees that I interacted with this email address, it happens to have an account, and now it’s suggesting to me that I be friends with this account. I did nothing to go search for you, but you’ve suddenly popped up in my suggested friends, or in my people to look at. So, these accounts follow, and every law school is in on some form of social media. The individuals in admissions offices, the faculty members at law schools, they have social media accounts. So, keep that in mind.
Now, you can actually set your profile in a way that represents you in a positive light. Think strategically about your profile picture. Is it a good representation of you? Does it represent you in a positive light? Your screen name, is it a screen name that is professional, or isn’t, kind of like your email address, that isn’t non-professional, so to speak. We’re not here to dictate what your screen name should be, obviously, but using that judgment can play a big role. Now, as you’re working with some of these social media accounts, there are some that give you the option of setting your settings as private and not being open to the public. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, things like that, you can set them as private. You don’t have to do that. Don’t feel like you have to set it as private if you feel that your social media is a good representation of who you are. Because, certainly, you may want your friends to be able to search for you, or you may want to add other followers, or you may be an influencer and want other people to see your account. So, you don’t have to shut it down for purposes of law school admissions or the idea of being professional, but you do want to make sure that that profile is something that you’d want your grandmother to look at and something that you feel confident portrays you in a positive light.
Now, as you’re in the process of investigating law schools and applying to law schools, you should probably, well, I don’t want to say that, but it’s a good idea. I’m going to take a firm stance here and say that you probably shouldn’t add the admissions officers as friends or followers on your social media accounts while you’re in the admissions process. Now, some may disagree with me, but I think that’s a good stance to take, is just to keep that divide and not follow people on Facebook or Instagram, if they’re part of the admissions office at a law school, while you’re in the admissions process. Now, you’d want to establish, once you’re in law school, whether it’s appropriate to then connect on these social media platforms. Both users would need to consent to that. But, for the purpose of the prelaw realm, where you’re now at, all the way to when you’re applying, keep that distance on social media. And that, I think, is a good overview of social media. I haven’t seen the questions, so I don’t know if I addressed them, but I will turn it over to Reyes for some other thoughts.
Dean Aguilar: Thanks, Preston. I have a couple of thoughts on social media as it relates to closing our discussion and moving into Q&A, and we have a wonderful judge who does an orientation program for us in welcoming students, giving a welcome to the judiciary and some ins and outs of the practice and their interaction with the courts as students, things as simple as, when you go to observe a hearing, how should you be dressed? And so, one of the things he has regularly brought up is, keep in mind that your interactions with folks, whether they be faculty or admissions offices, or when you’re in practice, your appearances before a court, you, by virtue of that appearance, whether it’s face to face, online, in a telephone call, are always going to be either potentially building a positive relationship and improving your reputation with the person you’re interacting with, or possibly diminishing it based on the professionalism and behavior you engage in.
So, I think that’s a good rule of thumb in terms of working very hard to make sure those interactions are building a positive reputation for you, because one of the things you will learn as you enter law, your reputation is one of the most valuable assets you will have as a practicing attorney. And then, a couple of other things. Keep an eye out for the impact that others may have on your reputation or your process. That is, they may be advocates, they may be parents, they may be former employers, who feel that they may be acting on your behalf. Make sure that, if others are acting on your behalf, they are conscious of how you want yourself presented to others. And then, some real simple stuff. Always try your best. Know that “Please,” “Thank you,” and “You’re welcome” can go a long way in helping with those relationships. I’m a fan of the TV show “Ted Lasso.” One of my favorite things about Ted Lasso is, as a show, I think it has taught the world how to apologize again. So, apologize when needed. And then, when you’ve made mistakes, be gentle with yourself. We’re all learning through this process. You’re young in your lives, and we all make mistakes along the way. Don’t beat yourself too much up about those things. And, with those, Collin, we have a little bit of time for Q&A. So, if there’s some questions you’d like to post to us, we’d be happy to answer them.
Collin: We absolutely do have a few minutes, and quite a few good questions have come in over the course of the program. And you both did a fantastic job of answering them just through the course of your natural conversation, so that was good. But some of the questions that I think I definitely want to hit on today, one which was really interesting, someone asked about being on the attack in defense of your clients, or perhaps in opposition to a system. How do you balance, or how do you strike the balance, between being professional, maintaining professional presence, while also being assertive in those situations, during the prelaw phase and also as a practicing attorney?
Dean Aguilar: I’ll take a shot at that answer, which is, by the way, a great answer, because, in the canons of ethics, there’s a phrase that often people will refer to in having either very aggressive or, as they see it, assertive behavior that they may be willing to engage in because of the zealous representation of their client. And that portion of the canons of ethics is often referred to, I think, and it’s a judgment call, in regard to your attempting to make sure that the court or opposing counsel know that your position is a very strong one, and, in your representation of your client, you want to make sure that there’s no question about what you’re asserting is to be kind of either a fact or a rule of law in favor of your client, and that is not up for being questioned. I’d be careful in terms of saying that’s not up for debate, because that’s the nature of the adversarial system, and somebody’s going to say, “Of course it’s up for debate,” but it’s very situation-specific. By no means should it appear to be threatening, or almost violent in the assertion or aggressiveness of your position, but being candid and appropriately articulate in how you kind of display that is one of those things that you got to figure out along the way.
I saw a question in terms of the use of exclamation marks in communications. I’d say, in your behavior or in your pleadings, think about, “Is the way I’m making this argument going to show up like, if it was on a text, all in caps with 15 exclamation marks? And is that overboard?” And so, that’s where you have to kind of learn your judgment. And if you’re working on a case, that’s where you have co-counsel or mentors perhaps look at your materials or, as you talk to them, express how you want to present it, and is that going overboard? I think if, in the moment, you kind of go overboard, that’s one of those things where you learn to kind of back off and recognize, if you’ve gone too far, how do you make an appropriate apology to the court, or opposing counsel, or others who may have been offended by how you’ve approached that? Kind of a long answer, because, for me, it’s a hard one to answer.
Dean Nicholson: Yeah, I think-
Collin: Oh, sorry, go ahead, Dean Nicholson.
Dean Nicholson: I was going to say, I think it’s important to keep in mind that the legal profession is not about arguing, it’s about argumentation. Forming that argument and figuring out what argument makes the most sense for the specific situation that you’re in, and not about just being aggressive, and arguing, and yelling, things like that. The personal statements that we read that say, “I want to go to law school because I love to argue,” that’s not what we’re doing here. But knowing that you have that ability to form cogent arguments is an important part of this.
Collin: Yeah, absolutely. And, actually, Dean Nicholson, I think I’ll stick with you, because, building off of some of the statements that Dean Aguilar made is, what about someone who maybe acted unprofessionally in the past, and maybe it’s present on their social media already, or they have a history with a particular school and they maybe got off to the wrong start, right, in their conversations. How can you apologize? How can you correct for perhaps a history of unprofessional behavior in a way which helps to preserve your reputation?
Dean Nicholson: First, keep in mind that everyone in this process, we’re humans, we make mistakes. We sometimes wake up on the wrong side of the bed, as it were, and sometimes the day is not exactly how we like it to go. So, providing grace to everyone is step one. Whenever you feel you do need to apologize for an in-person interaction, or an interaction on the phone or through email, a very clear apology, “I’m sorry for this,” can go a long way. Not “I’m sorry that you feel hurt by this,” or “I’m sorry that you got offended by this,” but more, “I’m sorry for what I did, and that was unprofessional of me, I realize, and is not characteristic of how I approach other situations or how I carry myself.” If it’s a situation that’s on your record, maybe a past unprofessional event that’s somewhere logged, or maybe caused you to have some interaction with the court system, of course we’re going to ask for addenda statements as part of your application that will allow you to explain those transgressions, providing as much detail as possible, and showing that is not evident of who you are now and where you are at this point in your life. So, being humble, having grace, and being up front with ways that you may have been less than your best self is the way to go.
Collin: Fantastic. And, remarkably, we’re at the end of this webinar already. I can’t believe that we’ve gone through it. So, I want to make sure that I give you both the opportunity to give some final words, and perhaps some final words of advice and wisdom to the attendees who are still with us today. So, perhaps Dean Nicholson, let’s start with you, since you’re still on my screen, and then we’ll end with you, Dean Aguilar.
Dean Nicholson: Yeah, I think, as you approach the next few years of your life, and you’re looking at law school as an option, do that investigation to figure out if this is the right path for you, but keep in mind, as you’re going through this process, as I said earlier, we’re all humans, so we all want to root for each other. We’re all going to be members of the same profession someday. So, treating everyone with respect, kindness, humility, grace, that’s the way to present yourself in the most professional way, and, if you do that, you’re going to be successful in whatever endeavor you choose to pursue.
Dean Aguilar: I’d like to close by doing three things. First, welcoming you. If you’re on this video, that means you’re thinking about the practice of law and you’re well on your way to doing this. So, welcome to the profession. One of the best decisions I made was choosing to go to law school and become licensed. The second is, there’s a lot of things that you’re going to be experiencing as you go through this process. Take advantage of those. Be observant. Like I alluded to earlier, be gentle with yourself as mistakes are made. Get excited at the opportunity to know that you’re going to be representing the interest of clients. That you’re going to be part of the helping profession. Keep mind it’s about helping. And then, lastly, hopefully, a little bit of this session showed you that Preston and I view this profession that we’re both a part of as a helping profession. And I think, if you come to it with that approach, that the idea of the work that your life’s work is going to be is going to be advocating and trying to help people, that you’re a problem-solver, that’s going to go a long way in helping you assume the right perspective, and be sincere in trying to do the right thing, in both your civil and professional behavior, as well as how you’re representing your clients.
Collin: Fantastic. Thank you very much, Dean Aguilar, and thank you very much, Dean Nicholson. Both of you gave so much good advice during this program, and I really do appreciate your time and your wisdom here today. And I also want to thank everyone who joined us today for this great, fantastic webinar from LawHub. And we have done our best to answer as many questions as possible through the Q&A, but we understand that it’s not always possible to respond to everyone. So, if you do have additional questions, please feel free to email us at Ambassadors@LSAC.org. In addition to that, we are adding to the schedule of LawHub webinars. So, depending on where you are in your law school application journey, I would like to encourage you to join us for more webinars, including some next month, on April 14, April 20, and April 28. If you don’t already have a LawHub account, please be sure to set up one as soon as possible, maybe even today. Look out for learning opportunities every single month from LawHub. Stay connected with LSAC on social media, and stay tuned for updates about webinars coming your way in April, May, and beyond, as well as more information about the upcoming Admission Unmasked and Law School Unmasked programs coming your way this summer. We do look forward to seeing you all again. Have a great day.
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