Thanks to countless unfortunate examples, everybody is aware of the dangers of getting it wrong online.

Joking that you hope you don’t get Aids on a trip to Africa (Yes, it really happened – Google ’Justine Sacco’) or hijacking the Syrian conflict for your own ends, as shoe designer Kenneth Cole did with his unforgettable tweet: “‘Boots on the ground’ or not, let’s not forget about sandals, pumps and loafers. #Footwear”, are mistakes not easily erased from public consciousness.

Even law firm partners, who you’d think would know better, can’t stop themselves blurting out opinions that will obviously get them in trouble. “Is it time for dedicated Islamic airports and airlines so the rest of us can carry as much water as we like?”  Clarke Willmott partner Jamie Foster tweeted recently, getting the response from the internet that you might expect.

But leaving aside the damage that can be caused by 140 characters and a moment of blind idiocy (or an offensive personality), knowing how to use social media to your advantage is more difficult than you might imagine.

Social media disaster fear laptop computer internet

To Link or not to Link?

LinkedIn is always being bandied about as the most professional of social media sites. But while making a profile and choosing a non-incriminating photo that makes you look as if you have a modicum of intelligence is difficult to mess up, choosing who to connect with is trickier.

Once you’re in a job this tends to take care of itself: colleagues and business acquaintances rack up and before long your profile looks respectable with zero-to-little effort on your part.

Before you’ve secured whichever role you’re chasing, however, your profile can look a little bare. How can you boost your number of connections, or at least use LinkedIn to increase your chances of getting a training contract?

A no-no is connecting with random members of graduate recruitment departments or pupillage committees. Lawyer 2B often hears graduate recruitment teams’ tales of social media woe. If you haven’t met them, don’t add them. There are better ways to contact grad recruitment teams.

“We would recommend that students engage with us by liking our Facebook page and following us on Twitter,” Linklaters graduate recruitment manager Jennifer Cook says. “This will provide them with the opportunity to keep up to date, make enquiries and add their comments more effectively than using LinkedIn to connect with an individual member of the graduate recruitment team.”

Badgering a recruiter with requests will simply make them think that you aren’t aware of professional etiquette – the precise opposite of what you want to communicate.

If you have met the recruiter in person, at a law fair or event, then just use common sense. If you had a valuable chat with them and you’re genuinely interested in applying to the firm then an email or LinkedIn request might be a valuable step.

RPC HR and graduate resourcing manager Kali Butler had some wise words to share with Lawyer 2B when we spoke to her about this issue back in the autumn.

“It’s worth making contact with the people you talked to from firms that stood out,” she said. “You can use LinkedIn or email them directly – just a note to thank them for their time can go a long way. If you use LinkedIn, personalise your message: recruiters look for personality as much as brains and commercial awareness.”

Remember to send requests promptly – recruiters meet hundreds of students, and if you don’t send the request within a day or two, chances are they will struggle to remember the conversation you had clearly.

The same logic can be applied to LinkedIn ‘endorsements’. A general rule, if somebody does send an endorsement your way, accept it only if that person truly knows what they are talking about. A work experience supervisor? Perfect. An acquaintance from primary school who now works as a hairdresser/teacher/estate agent? Maybe not.

When listing achievements, think of quality over quantity. If you wouldn’t put it on a one-to-two-page CV, don’t put it on LinkedIn. Think about what will help you get a job, don’t try to tell your life story from your swimming certificate to the minutiae of your non-law dissertation.

Some people – not just students – get chatty on their LinkedIn profile. Resist the temptation. Recruiters’ hearts won’t be warmed by the profile of someone who says they’re “chasing the dream” or who talks about all the amazing people they met in their last job. Again, if you wouldn’t put it on you’re CV, don’t share it here.

Tweeting for a training contract?

Twitter requires a different tack. It’s an altogether more casual network, even when using it professionally, both in terms of who to follow and what to say.

In fact, as long as you remember not to mention that massive hangover and curb any socio-political rants (no matter what your standpoint, nobody likes a self-righteous tweeter) it’s actually easier to fall into the trap of being too professional. You’re allowed to be a human. Just be a respectable one.

A quick note of advice on Twitter pictures though. They tell a thousand words. And since it’s on Twitter, a thousand people too. Stay classy. That doesn’t just mean remembering to be fully clothed in the picture above the bio telling the world you want to be a barrister – we’ve seen it all, lucky us – but reining in the selfies full-stop. Casual is one thing, seemingly-vacuous is another. Cutting down on over-Instagramming is another necessary step. If you must filter, filter subtly.

(The same logic needs to be applied to your Facebook profile as well. Don’t like a law firm page without knowing that your privacy settings are such that they won’t be able to have access to your profile, unless it is squeaky-clean.)

Another bright idea is to steer clear of any intoxicated profile pictures, even if they’re semi-ironic. The irony probably won’t translate and you’ll just look like a lout. It’s easy to think that law firms’ Facebook pages are essentially faceless and that nobody will notice your hijinks. They are not and people will.

Retweeting on Twitter is fraught with (under-employed) etiquette. “What’s wrong with retweeting?” you might well ask. Nothing whatsoever. So long as you don’t veer into stalker territory, retweet away. But – and this is a big but – requesting retweets needs to be approached with caution.

First – think who you’re requesting a retweet from. If it’s a media source, such as Lawyer 2B, then go ahead. We love to hear from you and (generally speaking) we’ll be happy to share your views. If it’s a QC or the managing partner of a law firm, then resist. Yes, it would look wonderful if they retweeted your blog post. Chances are, they won’t and you’ll be left hanging. It’s a cruel world, we know.

By all means, engage with them in other ways. Not pestering them for a retweet doesn’t mean you can’t tweet them at all – just don’t badger.  If they share a view you have an opinion on, don’t be afraid of responding. It all comes down to common sense.

Second, think about the quantity of retweets you request. If you’re asking one or two people for a retweet, fine. If you’re asking five, or ten, or 20, stop. It makes you look desperate, it litters people’s feeds and is a sure-fire way to lose followers, and it irritates people once they realise that far from valuing their endorsement, you’re looking for any and every endorsement you can get.

A few aspiring lawyers have built up significant followings on Twitter. Of course, it feels great to get followers. But actually, if you’re using Twitter for ‘getting a job purposes’ rather than your own vanity, it doesn’t really matter if the only people following you are your partner, your best mate and a spammer who wants to sell you cheap Viagra.

Ultimately, Twitter will not magically gain you a training contract or pupillage. Chances are you will not become a doyenne of the social media world, no matter how witty and incisive your tweets may be. But it’s a great research tool so use it as a news source with added, instant debate. Think of it as a window into the legal world.

Ten legal tweeters to follow:

@Lawyer2Bmag – obviously (and you can also follow us on Facebook and Instagram if you’re so inclined)

@JackofKent – aka David Allen Green, lawyer and blogger

@Charonqc – Not actually a QC but a well-respected blogger nonetheless

@AdamWagner1– barrister and founding editor of UK Human Rights Blog (@ukhumanrightsb)

@StudentProBono – will help you keep abreast of the opportunities that are out there

@inner_temple – useful legal news from the Inner Temple Library

@CourtNewsUK – rather sensationalist tweets, giving news from around the UK’s courts

@LifeinaLawFirm – The RPC trainees’ account is one of the more well-run law firm feeds.

@BaronessDeech – lawyer and lord

@ – Your university careers service