Meeghan Tirtasaputra was scrolling TikTok during the pandemic when she started noticing law students struggling with questions about the legal profession.
“I thought, ‘Well, if I can just jump on here and maybe give some advice, if it just helps one or two people, that’s cool,” said Tirtasaputra, an associate at Fox Rothschild. Her “a day in the life” video series on the social media site now has more than 37,000 followers, many of them first-generation law students.
Tirtasaputra, who goes by the handle “meeghanhenry,” has had partners at her law firm ask to be in her TikToks. She doesn’t name the firm in her videos, but Fox Rothschild highlights Tirtasaputra’s social media savvy on its website. The firm has reposted some of her videos to its own branded accounts.
Navigating the worlds of TikTok and Big Law isn’t always so smooth.
Eni Popoola left her job as an associate at Cravath, Swaine & Moore in March to continue her beauty blogging career, including her “enigivensunday” account. Popoola clashed with the Wall Street law firm over paid partnerships, she said in a TikTok video posted to more than 271,000 followers. The deals violate Cravath’s policy on moonlighting and outside work, she said.
“The traditional conservativeness and general sense of control over associate lives the partnership expects to have, that’s where it is kind of coming to a head in Big Law,” said Cecillia Xie, a former Morrison & Foerster lawyer turned writer and content creator who has more than 410,000 followers on TikTok.
The short-form video sharing app that launched in the US in 2016 is “a newer frontier for Big Law firms because they haven’t really had to deal with associates who may have had platforms and activities on social media prior to joining the firm,” said Xie.
Cravath and Popoola, who promotes products including Lancome and
The first generation of associates who spent their college and law school years with access to TikTok are now joining the professional world, but no consistent policies have emerged among the largest law firms about employees’ use of the video sharing platform.
Priscilla Hamilton, an associate at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett who posts content to TikTok under the name “legallypriscilla,” was approached by a brand to do a paid post, she said in a series of now deleted videos. Hamilton said her firm, which she did not name in her videos, told her that doing so was a conflict of interest. Hamilton also said she was also told that any paid partnerships she submits would be rejected “even if there’s no conflict of interest.”
“Simpson Thacher does not permit employees to get paid to promote products or brands, in order to avoid potential business or legal conflicts with our current and future clients, in accordance with applicable law,” the firm said in a statement. It added that it does not comment on any specific personnel matters.
Hamilton didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Policies governing social media activity vary from firm to firm—some have very strict limits, others are more flexible, Xie said. Finding a balance is crucial with a younger cohort living a good portion of its life online, she said.
“It exemplifies the associate-partnership tensions that I think are just inherent with changing generations,” Xie said.
Not Just for Dancing
TikTok, which is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, has become a social media juggernaut. The platform has grown to over 150 million active users in the US. Globally, that number is over 1 billion. The app‘s surging popularity has also drawn national security concerns from US lawmakers.
“The days of TikTok being a dancing app for teenagers are long, long gone,” said James Brady, a Washington-based influencer, marketing consultant, and social media content creator and manager. Entrepreneurs and creators are building massive communities and audiences thanks to TikTok’s advanced algorithm, he said.
“TikTok has really democratized the short-form video space and really created a mechanism where people can suddenly find themselves with hundreds of thousands or millions of followers virtually overnight, just by creating one piece of content that happens to go viral,” said Ted Murphy, CEO and founder of IZEA, a technology company that provides software for influencer marketing.
Influencer’s share of marketing and media spend has grown as dollars flow out of television and radio into creators that are on social media platforms, whether it’s podcasts, YouTube, or TikTok, Murphy said.
TikTok has quickly become a favorite platform for marketers and influencers, who can make money for promoting a brand or product. The average cost paid per post on TikTok across influencers of all size is about $2,700, Murphy said.
It’s not clear exactly how much lawyers-turned-influencers are raking in for their content. The top five influencers in the financial content space could earn between $275,000 and $750,000 per year with just two sponsored posts per week, according to a recent study conducted by derivative trading provider CMC Markets.
The other way to monetize on TikTok is performance-based, Murphy said, like driving product sales on a platform like Amazon or even potentially pushing people to a professional services site.
“TikTok is definitely where you want to be right now if you’re looking to make money as an influencer,” Murphy said.
A third-year associate at a top Big Law firm can typically make $250,000 a year, plus a potential discretionary bonus over $50,000.
Tirtasaputra said she’s connected with potential clients through the TikTok app, and some of her videos have influenced people to apply for Fox Rothschild’s fellowship program. At a recent recruitment event at UCLA, she was recognized by some law students who said they were expressly interested in the firm because of her account.
One thing Tirtasaputra doesn’t do, however, is paid collaborations. She sees them as both a conflict with time and clients.
“Acting as an advocate for my clients in court, it’s hard to then reason being able to represent maybe that client’s competitor on another public platform,” she said.
Fox Rothschild doesn’t discourage the use of social media, said its chief business officer Holly Lentz Kleeman, but any brand advocacy or sponsorship opportunities go through formal conflicts review process through its general counsel.
“Anyone who goes through law school and becomes a lawyer, they know that they have those professional rules of conduct,” Lentz Kleeman said. “The bar is higher for them, and they made that choice to go into the profession.”
“I view it as a support, not a hindrance, because you want to make sure that you’re being a good firm citizen and not putting the firm and your partners at risk,” she said.
While at Morrison & Foerster, Xie said she worked with the firm’s general counsel to develop a process for proposing any paid partnerships that she was considering.
“Early on, I got to really learn how conflicts checks work and how to read a conflicts report,” she said, noting that she had to be very considered and measured with which partnerships she was even going to propose to the firm general counsel.
‘Relevant for the Generations Coming Up’
Hamilton claims in a now deleted TikTok video that she was following Simpson Thacher’s policy in submitting her request for a paid post and has met with the general counsel to better understand the firm’s stance.
“Associates want to work at firms where there are reasonable, well thought out and clear policies about what they can do so that they continue accessing this outlet that provides value to them and that can provide value to the firm,” said Kate Reder Sheikh, a California legal recruiter for Major, Lindsey & Africa.
Associates with active social media personas may get blowback “because it’s not the way business development has been traditionally done—that doesn’t mean it’s not an effective way of developing business,” said Reder Sheikh, adding that she herself has gotten business over the last few months from candidates who have been following her on Twitter.
“There is value in people understanding a little bit who you are in the context of wanting to work with you down the line and that’s part of what TikTok does,” she said.
Most law firm policies were likely established by people who are not on TikTok, said Reder Sheikh. Firms are either overly restraining their employees because they don’t understand the value proposition, or their policies are unclear and very difficult to follow, said Reder Sheikh.
Xie said TikTok can be a good tool for client development and recruitment. Firms also should be cognizant that more of their associates now come from a wider range of backgrounds and circumstances that might lead them to do things like post on social media and have a side income, Xie said.
“You do social media because you want to share something, because you want to make extra money while you’re in school,” she said. “These are all valid ways to live your life, but they are ways that I think if you come from the privileged white male upbringing, you never had to do.”
Lentz Kleeman had some advice for law firms that haven’t adapted to incoming associates who have lived a majority of their lives online.
“We have to be relevant for the generations coming up and accessible and not afraid of new things,” she said. “But instead, get our arms around them and help our people, our lawyers and our staff to navigate that in a way that’s not harmful to the firm.”
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