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November, 2011:

First Amendment Shouldn’t Protect Homophobia in Schools

It’s distressing to hear that students are being permitted to wear t-shirts with homophobic messages on them at school. This issue has come up a few times in the past year. In one situation, judge said it was ok for a student to wear a shirt that said, “Be Happy, Not Gay” because a school didn’t have the right to prevent a student from expressing their beliefs. At another school, students were not disciplined when they came to school wearing shirts that said “Straight Pride” on the front and a verse from Leviticus on the back: “If a man lay with a male as those who lay with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination and shall surely be put to DEATH.”

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Image by NIST2018 via Flickr

Now, I’m a huge supporter of the First Amendment. Tinker v. Des Moines School District says that your constitutional right to free speech doesn’t end when you enter the school property, and I think that’s true. It’s perfectly fine to have your beliefs, but there must be limitations on how you’re allowed to express them.

There are also needs to be a line drawn between Tinker and these anti-gay t-shirt cases. In Tinker, the students wore black armbands as a symbol that they were against the Vietnam War. They were expressing their political view. They weren’t discriminating against anyone. Their armbands probably didn’t create a hostile learning environment. A shirt that says all homosexuals should be killed does.

If a school permits students to wear “Gay Pride” shirts then students should be allowed to wear “Straight Pride” shirts. The students should have been disciplined because they wore shirts that called for killing of homosexuals! There wouldn’t have been any discussion if these students had shown up to school in shirts that promoted the KKK, said that women were the lesser sex, or displayed the Nazi flag. No one would have been allowed to wear any of these shirts because “it sparked a conversation.” Discipline would have been swift and automatic.

Too often, people are using the right to religious freedom to promote homophobia, and schools are accepting this crap argument. School administrators should not tolerate any type of discrimination on school grounds. They can respect that students have a right to their religious beliefs (even closed-minded beliefs) without giving them so much freedom of expression that they allow these bigoted students to interfere with other students’ ability to learn. There’s a huge difference between allowing a student to have their beliefs and putting limits on how they are allowed to express it in the classroom. It is unacceptable for schools to use religious freedom as an excuse for allowing LGBT students to be bullied in the classroom.

Top 10 Blogging Tips for Law Students

Blogging Research Wordle

Image by Kristina B via Flickr

I recently got an email from Jonathan Negretti, a 2L at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University. He and his classmate recently launched a legal blog, and he asked me to provide some feedback. They’ve created a good based they can build on. Starting a blog as a 2L is a great idea because it gives you some time to build a following and demonstrate some areas of expertise before you graduate.

Here are the top 10 blogging rules that I shared with him.

  1. Whenever you do a legal blog post, put a disclaimer at the top that informs the reader that you are not a lawyer or giving legal advice. Here is the disclaimer that I use: “I am not an attorney. In accordance with ABA policy, this blog should not be viewed as legal advice. It is simply my experiences, opinions, and stuff I looked up on the internet.”
  2. Use lots of links. Put links in your posts to applicable laws, other blogs, and news stories. This builds up your credibility and is a great way to connect with other bloggers.
  3. Get a Twitter account to network and announce when you publish a new blog post. It’s better to have an account for yourself, not your blog, because people want to connect with you as a person. You should also announce new posts on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Google+.
  4. Complement your posts with interesting images. I get good ones for free from Zemanta and CreativeCommons.org. If you are using images from Creative Commons, be sure to use images that you can adapt and use for commercial purposes.
  5. It’s perfectly acceptable to invite others to write guest posts on your blog. Be sure to include a bio for them at the bottom with links to their blog, Twitter account, LinkedIn account, etc.
  6. If your plan is to open a law practice after graduation, check your state’s ethics rules regarding legal advertising before inviting people to hire you.
  7. If you are compensated for writing a blog or get free merchandise in exchange for writing a review, you must disclose it in the blog post. There’s an FTC regulation about that.
  8. Approve all non-spam comments, even from people who are mean or disagree with you. It shows that you’re not afraid to discourse and that you’re open to other perspectives. If you can stay level headed while other people are losing their minds, it makes you look articulate and confident.
  9. Respond to every comment. Blogging is an effective way to start conversations.
  10. Don’t be afraid to be bold. Some of the most memorable blog posts are the ones where the author takes a strong stance that not everyone agrees with. They inspired people to leave comments and be part of the discussion. One of the best things I did in law school was Sponsor A Law Kid, and it was also one of the most controversial.

If you have any questions or tips for neophyte law student bloggers, please leave them as comments. This is one of those areas where law schools don’t always prepare their students to effectively use a networking tool.

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Integrate Your Online Personalities

I spent this past weekend at PodCamp AZ, a social media unconference for bloggers and podcasters. It was my third year attending, and I had a great time. I always walk away with new tidbits of information.

gemini   -oh, dedicated to a pisces in his bday-

Image by TheAlieness GiselaGiardino²³ via Flickr

This year, I attended Carey Pena’s session, “Branding, Not Bragging.” Carey gave great advice on creating and promoting your brand. She challenged us to think about our personal brand, which is hard to do yet so simple – it’s who we are. Our brand is our personality, not our jobs. To promote your brand, you just have to be yourself. The best quote I took from her talk was, “The best branding is authentic branding.”

Someone at Carey’s talked asked if they should have separate Twitter accounts for their personal and professional lives. That question made me smile, because that was my question at PodCamp AZ in 2009. That year the lovely Heather Lynn Herr did a presentation about online personas. I was a 2L at the time and seriously questioning if I need one Twitter account that would be 100% professional and a separate account where I could be a little more outspoken and free with my thoughts. I posed the question to the room and the group responded with a resounding, “No!” They said it was better to rock on with my quirky, geeky, flash mobbing self because some people are going to love it and they are going to seek me out because I’m different, even in the generally conservative legal community. And they were right . . . about everything.

When I think about personal branding, I think about a question that Bill Richards asked me during an interview for a law school externship. He asked, “If you could do anything for a living, what would it be?” That’s a great basis for discovering what your brand is. Your brand is about what’s important to you, how you spend your time, and who you spend it with. Sharing those things gives the rest of a glimpse into who you are. And then when I need to hire someone, I’m going to go to seek out the people I inherently like first and their recommendations before turning to Google or a referral service.

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ASU Foundation Hitting Up Law School Grads Too Soon

About a week ago, I got a very disturbing phone call – from the ASU Foundation. They called me to ask for a donation.

I graduated less than six months ago. The average debt for ASU law grads is $89,000.  Some of my classmates don’t have to pay back their loans yet, and the school is asking us for donations. I was nearly speechless.

I suspect the ASU Foundation is trying to get donations based on the idea of reciprocity. In their eyes, they probably think that ASU gave me a great education so I should want to thank them by giving a donation. In my eyes, I bought a great education from ASU, and now they’re asking for more.

(cc) John M. Quick from Flickr

Part of philanthropy is building relationships with the people who want your money. I completely support ASU keeping in touch with its new alumni and cultivating relationships so it will be easier to ask for money in the future. Six months is too soon to ask.

If the ASU Foundation had taken the time to get to know me, it would have seen that I publicly said that I was so unhappy with the law school’s previous administration that I would not be a donor until changes occurred in the program.  The foundation would have known how frustrated I was that my tuition went up 32% during the three years I was a student and that it would have been in their best interests not to ask me for money at this time.

I do think it’s possible for ASU to redeem itself in the long run. I am very pleased with the decision to appoint Douglas Sylvester as the interim dean and some of the changes he’s made since taking over the school. It’s a good start, but I won’t be convinced to open my wallet until I see the new dean in action.

Unfortunately for the law school, the ASU Foundation is compounding an existing problem in the law school. This week, Dean Sylvester said that state funding cuts couples with a lack of alumni donations has required the law school to raise tuition for next year’s students. Many of the law school’s recent graduates were pissed off when they graduated. Asking us for money too soon is keeping us pissed off, and therefore the school has to work harder to get back into our good graces.

One of my classmates had a brilliant response to the call from the ASU Foundation. She said she’d donate as much money to ASU as ASU donated to her. (Bummer for ASU – they gave her nothing.)

How Networking Works

When I started law school, the career services office often spoke about the value of networking, but no one really went into the nuts and bolts of how to do it. Many of my peers had little or no professional experience, so they tried to network as best they could but often made blunders, like showing up at networking events with resumes in hand expecting to get a job interview or a job offer. They weren’t taught that networking is about creating and maintaining a professional network. It’s a continuous process, not an event.

I want to share a recent experience that shows how networking works for me.

Stepping Stones by oatsy40 from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Stepping Stones by oatsy40 from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

During the spring semester of my 1L at Arizona State University, the school invited author Ari Kaplan to speak at the school about how to create professional opportunities for yourself. I appreciated the fact that he encouraged people to be interesting and to stand out from the crowd. While he was still talking, I found him on LinkedIn and sent him a request to connect.

I stayed in contact with Ari. He was the person I called when I had a professional development question that I didn’t feel comfortable asking anyone at my law school because I was afraid it would hurt my reputation. Yes, despite being daring and outspoken, I’m very thoughtful about my actions.

I spent my 1L summer with the U.S. Army JAG and I got to sit in on some of the training classes for military police officers. I learned a lot about crimes that they didn’t cover during law school, like solicitation and conspiracy. As a co-founder of Improv AZ, it made me think about the ways we could get arrested just for planning a prank or flash mob.

Ari often speaks about the benefit of creating a professional niche. I sent him an email asking if he thought flash mob law was viable niche for me. He wrote me back that night. He was working on an article on creating a targeted niche for the ABA’s Law Practice Magazine. He said his article as written was dry and he asked if he could use me as an example of someone who is using his suggestions. I was ecstatic. Mark Feldman at Law Practice Magazine loved Ari’s article so much he contacted me to get pictures from Improv AZ’s flash mobs to go with it.

Ari and I regularly keep in touch, and I continue to explore my niche by writing about the legal side of various pranks and flash mobs. Having a blog, especially one with a candid approach made me stand out from my peers and opened the door to many opportunities to be a guest blogger.

Recently, I received an unexpected email from Mark Feldman. He started new venture, Attorney at Work, with his wife Joan Feldman and Merrilyn Astin Tarlton. This site provides practical information and advice on creating a law practice. They thought my writing was “wonderful,” and they invited me to bring my “undeniable Ruth voice” to their site as a monthly writer.

I’m excited to announce that starting this month, I am a contributing writer for Attorney at Work. My monthly posts will focus on the real-world technical side of lawyering.

I never expected an opportunity like this to fall into my lap, and it didn’t happen overnight. This was two years in the making through maintaining relationships, having a regular public presence, and doing consistent good work. That’s networking.

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