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After the early days of the pandemic ruined her birthday plans, Cecillia Xie decided that if she couldn’t spend time with her friends, the next best way to pass the time would be by making a TikTok.
Her first video was about working from home and riffed on a popular meme format: to frantic music, she, a lawyer, shuffled through court documents and later attempts a workout by her standing desk, only to be distracted by a frustrating phone call. In comparison, the video showed, were other remote workers painting their nails or enjoying a glass of wine during a team meeting, to the tune of Lana Del Ray.
It went viral.
“To my surprise, it kind of blew up,” said Xie, who’s a sixth-year privacy lawyer at Morrison & Foerster, one of the top law firms in the US.
She turned to TikTok as a creative outlet after her dance company closed at the beginning of the pandemic, but she quickly realized users on the platform were hungry for information about the legal industry. In the nine months since her first video, Xie, or @cecexie, has amassed 186,000 followers on the app, many of whom are high school and college-aged women curious about becoming lawyers themselves.
As an immigrant and the first person in her family to go to law school, she said there were plenty of things she wishes she knew about the LSAT, getting into law school, nailing the job interview, and having a successful career at a top firm.
“Even though I have super smart parents, they couldn’t help me navigate my legal career. But even though I thought I knew so little, some people know even less than I did, and I really want to help younger folks and pay it forward,” she said.
A graduate of Harvard Law School, Xie interned in the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division in the Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section. She was also a summer associate at the law firm Simpson, Thatcher & Bartlett, where she worked as an associate for two years. She joined Morrison & Foerster in 2018.
She talked to Insider about why she decided to use her TikTok fame to educate young women interested in the legal industry, how it’s impacted her day-to-day job, and her plans for bringing her following into the office with her one day.
Xie’s account gained traction after she posted multiple educational videos about being a lawyer in New York.
There are only a few well-known content creators who post videos about the legal industry, like @thekoreanvegan, a cooking account run by a partner at the law firm Foley & Lardner, and law school students Averie Bishop (@averiebishop) and Callie Wilson (@okcallie). Still, the appetite for legal industry content is high: the hashtag #lawyersoftiktok, #biglaw, and #lawschool have received 178.4 million, 10 million, and 266.2 million views, respectively.
For Xie, the majority of her content is educational, and the hundreds of followers who comment on each of her videos provide her with an “endless stream of ideas.”
She’s posted explainers on choosing a practice area, how to find a legal internship or job, the law school application timeline, what her 55-billable-hour week looked like, and more. She says it’s easy to film a couple of these during the weekend, and that taking a few minutes to edit and post them throughout the week is a good creative break from the workday.
She also posts “day in the life”-style videos, a popular TikTok format where users share chronological video clips of their days with a voiceover explaining what they’re doing. While they take longer to put together, Xie says they’re highly requested by her followers and helped her account explode in the fall.
In one she posted to her account in November that nearly 1.5 million people have watched, she catches and early morning outdoor SoulCycle class and spends $12 on coffee before getting a late start to work, where she reviews a junior associates mark-up of privacy and data security terms in a merger agreement; writes comments back to the junior while eating lunch at her home desk; and leads a product demo diligence session over Zoom.
After her last video meeting of the day, she applies a hair mask and reviews, summarizes, and analyzes another document before hopping into the shower. At the end of her workday, she heads to Chinatown for dinner and then watches TV with her boyfriend.
She also recently announced on TikTok that she was launching a series of small groups called “sidebars”— a reference to judges in court calling lawyers up to the bench for private conversations — in which high schoolers, undergrads, law school students, and early-career lawyers can meet via video chat to ask questions and share advice.
“This is a safe space where people can ask me anything and talk to each other and see what other people are thinking about and have learned,” she said. ” I really like my followers to see that they aren’t alone in whatever part of the legal career process they’re at.”
Xie has gained a following by being open online about difficult subjects like racism and sexism in the legal industry.
While she keeps her account focused on the general ins and outs of the legal industry and keeps mentions of her current and former firm few and far between, Xie said her videos have caught the attention of partners and colleagues because of their kids.
“I’ve gotten several messages from partners at my old and current firm about how their daughter found me on their For You Page, and they said they love it because it makes them seem cooler to their teenagers,” she said.
Her account did eventually get big enough that leaders in her firm reached out to talk about it, but she said Morrison & Foerster has been very supportive. She has been invited to bring the insights she’s learned on TikTok to strategize potential ideas for the summer associate program, firm education for attorneys and staff, and media relations for the firm.
That’s not to say there aren’t things she doesn’t tackle on her account.
Going into detail about clients is a no-go for most lawyers, regardless of where they share, and doling out legal advice is also typically not okay. Xie has also decided to stay away from weighing in on issues that aren’t directly related to the legal content she’s already putting out there. But while many in the industry, especially younger attorneys, shy away from discussing discrimination, Xie has posted multiple videos about sexist and racist ways she’s been treated while trying to do her job.
“One of the scariest parts is whenever I talk about issues of diversity or even mental health, because those have been stigmatized issues for a long time,” she said. “When I was less secure in my career and less certain of myself, I would have never made anything like this.”
Xie said she’s seen other lawyers on social media share their experiences with these topics, which encouraged her to be open as well. She’s made videos about overcoming imposter syndrome and experiencing sexism in law school. She also shared a story about realizing why she wanted to move on from a previous firm, because after being the only associate invited to a client pitch, the partner who invited her couldn’t remember her contributions to the conversation.
“Race and gender are sensitive issues, but I’m not a first-year anymore, so I kind of just thought, ‘I’m in the field, and if I want to stay in the field, I have a responsibility to make the legal field what I want it to be rather than just sitting back’,” she said.
As lawyers eventually head back to the office, Xie plans to bring her followers along.
Remote work has made it easier for people to share their work and their lives online. While many hope that a coronavirus vaccine may soon bring the return of normal life, Xie says she’s still planning to create Big Law content, and she hopes to someday bring her followers to work her to Morrison & Foerster’s midtown office.
“Commuting in New York and getting the office experience were reasons why I wanted to practice in New York, so I want to share that, hopefully this year,” she said, adding that she’s been fielding requests for months from followers who want to know what her office looks like and how she gets to it. “For a lot of people, this whole idea of living in New York, even with the subway as horrible as it is, is really beautiful and really moving.”
This year, Xie is hoping to do more “day in the life” videos, outsource video editing, and increase her production quality. She is also planning to build out some sort of website with an FAQ page to make her content even more accessible.
She added that while many of the young people who make up her audience are considering entering the legal profession, there are also some who have told her that her content has helped them realize they don’t want to be a lawyer — and that’s okay, too.
“There are things about the legal industry that no one tells you, and younger people can get obsessed with the ‘lawyer aesthetic’ and don’t realize the potential downsides,” she said. “If there are issues that I think are important, they should be things I talk about because they’re important for my followers, and the way I’m talking about it will help them talk about it, too.”