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Legally Disrupted: Three Key Takeaways on Unconventional Legal Careers

August 2021
By Zach Abramowitz

It was a webinar like no other, at least none in which I have taken part. This year, Axiom’s Legally Disrupted webinar series has featured interviews with the people who are advancing innovation in the legal industry – general counsel, heads of legal operations, and noted academics. 

But our most recent webinar featured a different kind of change agent: lawyer turned LegalTech executive turned social media sensation Alex Su. While Su may not have the title of General Counsel or Managing Partner, he is one of the key people in the industry driving change – often through his highly amusing TikTok videos, some of which he shared with us during the interview (before Su and I engaged in a legal industry–focused "battle of the memes”). Su has used TikTok to highlight the tension between lawyers and paralegals, sales teams, and legal operations. Some of these videos have more than two million views.

We spoke broadly about three key themes:

  • How to leverage unexpected social media platforms in legal
  • The industry’s embrace of LegalTech
  • How to navigate and think about alternative career paths

 

How to leverage unexpected social media platforms in legal

Su revealed that both managing partners of big law firms and general counsel have reached out to him by email to let him know how much they enjoyed his social posts. This led to a conversation about whether what happens online resembles what happens in real life. Su’s position was, while there is definitely a gap between social media and real life, the gap is shrinking. This got me thinking about the power of visual persuasion and humor. If managing partners and general counsel find memes relatable, then why not judges and juries? “Memes are a way to describe something we all know is true in a commonly known structure,” Su said. Couldn’t the same theoretically be said of closing arguments?

Su offered three takeaways to lawyers who want to build a brand using social media. 

  • First, figure out your goals, and then decide how social media will advance those goals. Su himself said that he only started posting on social media because it was making his job as an account executive easier.
  • Second, once you’ve figured out your goals, stay native to your brand. Su gave the example that someone in the coaching business might want to post on social media about overcoming personal struggles. That same strategy would not necessarily work for a lawyer looking to build a book of business or establish expertise –think about what would, and what might resonate with those audiences in an emotive, amusing manner.
  • Third, understand that not all employers want their employees posting on social media. Su cautioned that those at larger companies have more to risk by over-posting than someone working at a younger/alternative company that is trying to generate buzz.

Su did note some of the drawbacks of social media, especially the fact that it, ironically, can make taking alternative routes harder. He talked openly about how hard it was watching some of his friends, classmates, and colleagues progress in their linear legal careers, while he often felt like he was floundering. As someone who left the “safety” of Big Law for startups, and had to watch as friends of mine advanced more traditionally, I could relate to Su’s mixed feelings; but also to the realization that ultimately it was the more rewarding path, offering different routes to “success.”

The industry’s embrace of LegalTech

While perhaps best known for his social media, Su’s views on LegalTech are some of the most informed and insightful positions in the industry. He has worked at Logikcull, Evisort, and now Ironclad – three rapid-growth LegalTech startups – and has worn different hats at each.  

Based on his own experience and conversations with practicing attorneys, Su sees legal technology going up and to the right, both because the tech has matured, and also because so has the legal industry, where tech and machine learning is becoming more normalized culturally. Our audience polls confirmed that sentiment, as nearly 80% of respondents have either been excited about or open to the possibility of working at a LegalTech company. Would that have been true five years ago? I am not so sure.

How to navigate and think about alternative career paths

Su has become the poster child for lawyers leaving traditional linear careers to work in disruptive legal companies. As I pointed out, this isn’t always simple, because startups are often looking for skills that conventional lawyers do not yet have (but should).

Su’s advice: “Get in the game, get in the space.” He didn’t have technical experience, but not all jobs are technical. He started in sales. Get in there and see where you fit in. Don’t spend too much time researching the ideal job – find the opportunity, and then figure out afterwards how you will make it work. It can open up unexpected doors and new paths to put a traditional legal experience to work in more rewarding (and often impactful) ways.

For more insights from Alex Su, listen to the entire conversation.

Posted by Zach Abramowitz