This New York attorney uses TikTok to shed light on lawyer life
Unhappy young lawyers often share a common lament: “If only I’d known what being a lawyer was really like.”
It’s easy to understand the disconnect. After all, TV shows, movies and the media focus primarily on the endgame—the trial, the closing, the conviction.
There’s rarely much about the day-to-day legal work leading up to that big moment—assuming there is one at all.
Cecillia X. Xie is out to change that.
Xie is an associate in Morrison & Foerster’s global privacy and data security practice group. She uses the social media platform TikTok to showcase her daily life as a hardworking New York City lawyer trying to live life to its fullest.
The Harvard Law School grad also shares honest, authentic commentary and advice on topics ranging from student loan debt to summer associate success to how best to approach a partner who’s not great at responding to emails. (Hint: She considers phone calls “the nuclear option.”)
There’s clearly an audience that’s eager for her insight.
Her bright, upbeat 60-second videos regularly exceed 1 million views, and her account—@cecexie—at press time had more than 270,000 followers.
Q. I want to start with the obvious irony here: You’re a data privacy lawyer who’s big on TikTok. I am sure you recognized the privacy concerns surrounding the app from the get, but were you ever concerned?
A. Not really. I got over my illusion that I had any privacy online many, many years ago. When I first started studying privacy law, I learned to treat everything like I am in a public place—anything that’s plugged into the internet is public.
Q. What was it about TikTok that intrigued you?
A. I love new products. Any time there’s a new app out there that’s catching fire or some new way that an inventor purports to disrupt a current technology, I will be first in line to download it or try it out. As a consumer, I want to know: What kind of added value are they bringing? Is it compelling to me as a consumer to make a switch? With TikTok, I love the consumer angle, but as a creative, I am still trying to find my legs. Now I am thinking about launching a YouTube channel. YouTube isn’t new, but it has still retained its relevance and popularity. A lot of TikTok creators are on YouTube as well. One of the challenges of TikTok has been condensing my content down to 60 seconds, especially with advice videos. YouTube allows me to make longer-form content with less editing, so it will be a real time-saver for me.
Q. Your TikTok following is pretty impressive. Do you ever feel famous?
A. I did actually get two messages over the past weekend from people who had seen me at a restaurant. That was very surreal. I am always surprised by the number of people who want to hear what I have to say and who are now invested in my life in even a small way.
Q. One of your most-watched TikToks is a day-in-the-life segment where you spend a lot of time working. Why do you think more than 3 million people watched it?
A. I think it resonated because I am a real person, not an actress or a model. The comments were like, “This motivated me to study” and “I am going to go back and work on my homework now.” That was a really heartfelt thing for me because when I was younger, I spent so much time studying and working, but I didn’t really know what it would lead to in the future. I could just hope it was all for something. I think when I was younger, I would have loved to see someone who didn’t lead a glamorous life, but they led a nice life.
Q. One thing that stands out to me about your TikToks is how honestly you talk about money. Whether the topic is student loan repayment or just how far a big-firm salary goes—or doesn’t go—you’re providing information that I haven’t seen shared anywhere else.
A. I talk about money all the time! I am from China, and we always talk about how much things cost or how much money people earn. It wasn’t until I started making videos that I realized how transgressive it was to talk about money. But so many people thanked me for talking about it, especially the issue of whether you should take a full ride or take out loans and go to your dream school. These are issues we all clearly think about, but no one ever talked about them before.
Q. Did you always intend to use your TikTok as a platform for giving advice to aspiring lawyers and new lawyers?
A. No. In the beginning, I mostly made videos to share my life and have fun. But people started to ask me questions like, “Is law school hard?” and people began commenting, things like—and this breaks my heart—“I am not smart enough for law school.” I was and continue to be surprised by the number of people posting questions and reaching out to me directly. I thought, as little as I knew about law school, there are many others who know even less. No one is talking about the day-to-day things that really matter—the things that will really impact your life. But these are the things with the biggest impact as to whether you wake up happy to go to work, or you wake up and hate your life and wish you had done something else.
Q. Do you think maintaining a presence on TikTok could be beneficial to lawyers in terms of marketing or attracting clients?
A. TikTok and all social media are very important for personal branding. TikTok attracts a very young crowd, so for the most part, they’re not looking for [mergers and acquisitions] services. But I have seen solo and small-firm lawyers seemingly having lots of success leveraging TikTok to get clients.
Q. Do you follow a schedule for posting content? How do you know when to stop making content—when to put the phone down and stop documenting absolutely everything?
A. I was just talking to friends recently about this because they were saying that they found it really annoying when people [document every moment]. I like to keep my life siloed a little—when I do something, I want to be there 100-110%, even if it’s just a dinner with friends. I want to live the moment.
There are only so many hours in a day, and you want to be able to live some of it in addition to filming it. I don’t really
have a schedule; it’s more like a goal. I am pretty happy if I can post two to three times a week, but I also can’t beat myself up about it too much if I can’t adhere to that because of work demands. I don’t want it to become stressful or not to be fun anymore.
Q. I know your TikTok is personal, but at some point, I am sure you had to let your firm know about it. How did that play out?
A. I don’t remember who approached who first, but fortunately, it happened really organically. I don’t even think I had hit 100,000 followers yet, but a reporter reached out to do a small blurb about me, and she reached out to the firm directly. It was around that time that I realized I should probably talk to the firm. It wasn’t like a permission thing, but my TikTok was becoming a bigger thing than my Instagram—bigger than just me and my friends and big enough to get reporter inquiries—so I knew I needed to tell the firm about it. I met with a social media person at the firm to make sure I could do social media in a way that still made it clear that it is my own personal account. I’m in charge of everything contentwise, but it all aligns with the firm’s policy on social media, and it doesn’t create any potential conflicts of interest.
Q. Would you ever monetize your TikTok?
A. I am definitely open to it. I have gotten a lot of emails about those types of opportunities, but I want to do everything the right way. I want a contract. I want contingencies. I need to make sure there are no conflicts. A lot of brands will balk at the first sign that you want a contract—the amount of contractual sophistication in influencer marketing is not that high. There is one company I did reach out to—the company that made my standing desk. I love my standing desk so much, and I have many followers who have contacted me to say they bought my standing desk because of me, but the company ignored me. So I am still looking for my Prince Charming.
ABAJournal.com: “Three BigLaw attorneys share stories about their TikTok personas”
This story was originally published in the August/September 2021 issue of the ABA Journal under the headline: “Digital Discovery: This New York attorney uses TikTok to shed light on lawyer life.”