Female attorneys are leaving the practice of law. Although this isn’t a new problem, it’s a problem that has plagued the legal profession for decades. Many departures go unexplained and leave legal employers reeling. While answers may be hard to come by, I suggest that legal employers look to an unlikely source for information: TikTok. TikTok is a social media networking platform that allows users to post short-form videos ranging from 15 seconds to several minutes. Users can post, view, share and comment on the videos that other users create. TikTok is well known among Gen Z, but has also attracted a subset of unlikely users: female attorneys.
As with many industries, the COVID-19 pandemic left many female attorneys feeling alone and isolated. I started my legal career in 2019 as a judicial clerk and joined a law firm as an associate in fall 2020. While working from home I craved connection with my peers and the legal industry as a whole. Because in-person connection was out of the question, I turned to the internet and stumbled upon #LawyerTikTok.
On #LawyerTikTok, female attorneys share glimpses into their daily lives on topics including “a day in my life as corporate counsel for a tech company,” “my morning routine as a BigLaw attorney,” and “what I spend in a day: summer associate edition.” During the height of the pandemic, I spent hours scrolling through videos created by female attorneys serving as in-house counsel, associates at large law firms, family lawyers and public defenders.
Like many others, my social circle dwindled during the pandemic, and I didn’t feel any real sense of community. By scrolling through TikTok I was exposed to female attorneys from across the county in different work environments. My nightly scrolling was the equivalent of attending a career fair for female attorneys of all ages with a variety of career goals. As a bonus, I didn’t have to leave my couch or change out of my tie-dye sweatsuit to attend!
But, as the pandemic progressed, I noticed a shift in content. Generally, most of the content on #LawyerTikTok is produced to entertain, answer frequently asked questions or is produced with an aspirational vibe. For example, @rebmasel has a 29-part (and counting!) series titled “reading iconic court transcripts” where she highlights the “Did they really just say that out loud?” moments that frequently occur during sworn testimony. However, in early 2022, my favorite female attorney TikToker posted a video discussing her decision to leave the legal field. Shortly after, several other female attorneys followed suit. Although I left congratulatory comments on their videos, this abrupt shift in content caught my attention. Instead of mindlessly scrolling through “day in the life” videos, I started paying attention to why these women were leaving their jobs (and the legal profession altogether).
Although the following examples highlight the experiences of two former law firm employees, I believe their observations are especially poignant and indicative of the views many female attorneys on TikTok express on a daily basis.
One of my favorite legal TikToker’s is Cece Xie (@cecexie). Xie is a privacy and tech lawyer, writer and self-described “accidental content creator.” Xie documented her departure from her former law firm in a TikTok titled “a day quitting my job as a BigLaw attorney.” In the TikTok, Xie described the process of quitting as “giving notice” and provided a general overview of her decision. However, Xie also filmed a longer YouTube video titled “I quit my $350K job as a lawyer” that provided further context for her departure. At the conclusion of her departure video, Xie discussed a recent interview she gave to a reporter where she discussed the legal industry. The article was never published because the reporter found that it was difficult to get lawyers to talk candidly about the legal profession. Xie ended the video by discussing the isolation and opaqueness that goes hand in hand with many roles in the legal industry.
Similar to Xie, Mannat Sharma (@mannatplease) detailed her experience leaving the traditional practice of law. In a video titled “Quitting BigLaw in NYC,” Sharma details her decision to leave a job that looked like the “dream from the outside.” In the TikTok, Sharma details the perks that working at a law firm offered, including an office with a view of Central Park, working for big name clients and expensive dinners. However, after several years of working from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m., she knew that being on call 24/7 wasn’t sustainable. To illustrate the nonstop nature of Sharma’s work, there is a photo featuring her fervently working at a coat check in a restaurant. Admittedly, Sharma stated that her life looked perfect, but she wasn’t prioritizing herself. She was stressed and anxious all the time. However, during the pandemic, things started to change. Sharma started prioritizing her own health and wellness. Sharma traded in working in a coat check for working in-house at a technology company where she helps business teams build products. Her day-in-the-life videos now feature a balance of adequate sleep, workouts, social activities, and, of course, work.
The isolation and opaqueness of the legal industry, as highlighted by Xie and Sharma, is best illustrated by simply perusing the comment sections of many female attorneys on #LawyerTikTok. Their comment sections are inundated with questions from attorneys looking for interview tips, advice on making a change, help with negotiating a job offer, and so much more. The list is endless. Female attorneys are clamoring for information, as well as a place to discuss workplace challenges without fear of retribution.
But these are not new issues—female lawyers have been writing about and discussing these topics for decades. So, why are female attorneys seeking advice on TikTok? I believe the answer is two-fold.
First, TikTok isn’t unique in the “community” aspect, since there are many social media platforms that serve as online communities for female doctors, nurses, teachers and other professions. However, prior to the pandemic, I was never able to find a “community” of female attorneys on any other social media platform. At first I attributed the lack of community to female attorneys being busy. But being “busy” isn’t unique to women in the legal industry. Every woman I know is busy. Maybe, I thought, it’s because female attorneys are juggling outside commitments like business development, speaking engagements, and working on articles, in conjunction with raising families, serving as a caretaker to aging family members, or balancing other outside demands. But outside obligations are not unique to the legal profession either. I eventually settled on the following. A bedrock of the legal profession is confidentiality. Attorneys are expected to maintain confidentiality at all times. In my experience, the concept of confidentiality can get twisted and is interpreted as meaning secrecy and gate-keeping. The uncompromising demand for confidentiality (i.e., secrecy), coupled with aging institutional values and practices, serves as a breeding ground for less than ideal transparency and insight into the legal world. Unlike many forums, #LawyerTikTok is a virtually unmoderated space where female attorneys can ask questions (anonymously if they prefer) and receive answers. Additionally, most law firms are not on TikTok, which allows for candid discussion.
Second, as highlighted by Sharma, there are many “perks” to working in the legal industry, including a fancy office, nice dinners and professional development opportunities. For many, one of the perks of working in the legal industry is the “we’re all in this together” attitude when working with contemporaries. By way of example, although working late isn’t my preferred way to spend an evening, ordering dinner with coworkers and slogging through to meet a deadline is a bonding experience that is hard to replicate. The pandemic all but decimated the comradery that comes from working in the office and being in the trenches together. It’s unsurprising that in May 2021 the term “the Great Resignation” was coined, and attorneys began leaving their current positions en masse. Specifically, as part of the Great Resignation, many female attorneys are leaving their jobs to pursue other opportunities and professions.
During a time of missed connections, TikTok serves as a place where female attorneys find comradery and friendship. Additionally, many female attorneys have stepped out of the “content creator” role and are providing mentorship for those still in the legal profession. For example, Xie is actively working to make the legal profession more transparent. She has a website detailing everything I wish I had known before going to law school, as well as a newsletter where she answers frequently asked questions about the legal industry. Sharma now creates videos titled with the caption “a balanced work from home day as an NYC tech lawyer.” She also offers free downloadable templates dedicated to balancing “mind, body and craft.” In short, female attorneys are taking advantage of this unique opportunity and timing to increase the transparency of the legal industry and make it easier for other women to succeed.
The demand for information from female attorneys on TikTok is through the roof and illustrates the connection many women still crave, even after returning to the office. The opportunities for women to connect, give advice, and even commiserate are limitless. By simply logging onto TikTok and watching a few videos, legal employers can get a glimpse into the decision-making process female attorneys use when deciding to depart from their current position or the legal professional altogether. Although logging onto TikTok isn’t a solution to stop females attorneys from leaving the practice of law, it does provide key insight into what female attorneys want (and need) from their employers.
Republished with permission. This article, "An Unlikely Source of Insight for Female Attorneys: LawyerTikTok," was published by Law.com in The Legal Intelligencer on October 19, 2022.