Stories & advice from two legal marketers on a quest to shake things up in the law firm community. Learn from our mistakes.

Keep Your Negative Thoughts to Yourself

April 2nd, 2012 | Posted by Laura Toledo in Legal Etiquette | LMA | Practical Advice | Social | Writing

Social networks make it easier for users to voice their opinion—opinions about anything and everything. But just because you can voice your opinion in no way means you should.

Writing has always been a release for me. I’m one of those almost-30-year-olds who still keeps a written diary. Weird for a technology fiend, but there’s a reason – because I’m human, and I have bad days. And because I have a career, one that can be public, I make sure to keep those bad days to myself. As much as I’d like to publicly vent my frustrations, I know better. Nothing good would come out of it, aside from some pressure being relieved. But apart from a temporary fix, I would be presented with a long-term problem. One that affects my career and reputation that I’ve worked hard to build.

A few weeks ago, Rebecca and I attended the Legal Marketing Association’s National Conference in Dallas. It was my third conference in so many years. With over 1,000 attendees, there were more Tweeters this year than any other. More users = more personalities, and a few who decided to use Twitter as their soapbox.

I must say…I was disappointed that people I consider colleagues took to Twitter to voice their negative opinions. Fine, you don’t like a presenter. Maybe a session was a joke, and you think you can do better. Or, maybe you’re listening from afar, and feel like you need to poke fun (I mean, who doesn’t have unlimited time to do this? [sarcasm, people]). It’s one thing to give criticisms, but entirely another to rip someone to shreds. And to do it on a platform where meanings are easily misconstrued. Online communities make it easy to “hide” behind a profile picture or as “anonymous,” but it’s cowardly to do so to hurt another human being.

I hope these people realized that senior members of our organization were “listening.” And so were the presenters who worked to put their presentation together – that doesn’t change, good presentation or bad. And these users who decided to publicly attack – their reputation is on the line because of the things they decided to publish. No one thinks you’re any funnier for making a mean-spirited quip about someone else.

As marketing professionals, especially legal marketers, we have to be very careful about how we’re perceived. It’s hard enough to work for lawyers, who have ethics they must abide by; now pile on some negativity and it’s likely you’ll be talked to about it. Why make it harder on yourself? Your colleagues, your lawyers, your law firm aren’t going to find the humor and may be quick to judge. Social networks still haven’t “earned” their rightful place in law firms, so it’s pertinent that you put your best foot forward, and not do anything that may jeopardize the hard work you’ve put in. Not only the hard work in your realm, but the work all of us in legal marketing have collectively put in.

Have an opinion, great – everyone should have an opinion. But keep the most negative ones to yourself. Before you publish, ask yourself, “what am I getting out of this?” A quick fix? A witty feeling? I would hope that, if the situation was reversed, and you were on stage in front of your peers, that you wouldn’t have the same experience as some of our presenters did this year.


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  • nancymyrland

    Excellent post, Laura, and a great reminder about what professionalism and kindness are all about. There are real people behind all of the faces and voices we see at conferences, and online, so treating others with respect is very important.

  • Allison Nussbaum

    Well said — and thank you for saying it.

  • Adrian T Dayton

    I’m all for positivity. We need more of it in the legal industry for sure. There is a fine line however between giving real feedback or being disingenuous to protect feelings.

    At Marketing Partner Forum this year there were a few great panels, but one in particular that was so terrible that more than 50% of the audience had left by the end. I was fairly vocal about how poorly organized it was, because I didn’t want to ever have to sit through a session like that again. Was it wrong for me to be so open in my displeasure?

    Is it possible for us to be critical in a way that allows us to improve the quality of sessions, without hurt feelings? I’m all for that.

    Btw, great post. You guys are doing an awesome job.



  • Laura Gutierrez

    Thank you for the comments, guys!

    Adrian – I see your point. Criticisms should be constructive. They might hurt feelings, but if the intent is good, then there are ways to say it without being overly critical.

    This is why we have evaluations – to get better, to grow. But I, among a few others, felt that some tweets were malicious, and were said continually without motive – either to “follow” someone’s lead or seem “witty.” Like Nancy said, we should treat each other with respect…even if their presentation was terrible. There’s a time and a place for that, and it’s not ranting on Twitter (without purpose).

    I think we’d all get a little farther in our careers and life if we were more thoughtful – not saying we all need to be cheery, compliment anyone who does something, lie, etc. But at least try to be more mindful and relevant if we’re presenting criticism.

  • Dawn

    I don’t think a public social media site is a place to voice criticism. If you have constructive feedback, it should be conveyed via private message to the organizers or speakers. We all know how hard it is to get in front of a group and speak. Why embarrass people? We should encourage our colleagues.

    I did not attend the social media breakout session, but saw all the harsh tweets. :-( I still wonder what some of those tweeps were expecting to get out of a session aimed at social media beginners/intermediates…

    As regular users of social media our networks look to us for social media etiquette. We must be positive role models at all times.

    Stick to the age ol’ expression. If you don’t have anything nice to say….

    I know it can be difficult. We all struggle with it, but it’s essential.

  • Heather Morse

    Constructive criticism ++++
    Being an ass behind a screen name —-

    As a member of the LMA board I walk a fine line between my personal opinion, and being a leader within the association.

    I want the honest feedback, minus being a douche, because being a douche adds nothing to the conversation.

    However, when a conference attendee walks out of a panel discussion, I want to know why.

    I did give the directive to the board, conference committee and conference organizers that they did not have to wait for the conference evaluations. They could see live how well a panel was doing by following the Twitter stream.

    Our members are more passionate about programming, and our expectations are higher than most, as we do this for a living. I have read conference evaluations in the past, and our members are HONEST if nothing else.

    There is never an excuse to be rude, especially online, but there is also no excuse to soft-shoe when something has gone terribly wrong. We cannot learn from our mistakes when we don’t realize we made one.

    I would urge everyone to complete their conference evaluations if they have not.

  • Jayne Navarre

    I wasn’t at the LMA conference and I don’t think I saw the Tweets being referenced here, but I can say as a fairly frequent public speaker that, where people are gathered opinions will vary and criticism is inevitable. Some is even deserved—I’ve had my share, thank you, both public and private, neither is preferred. I speak from experience and not to be flip, but anyone who gets up in front of an audience, paid or not, is opening their self to be vulnerable. (I believe that is incorrect English but I can’t think of any other way to say it.) AND, it hurts. It’s a tough nut to swallow, but you have to pick yourself up, learn from your mistakes, and move on.