December 09, 2022
Trending on TikTok
Alumnus Alex Su’s unlikely journey from academic uncertainty to law’s comedic truth teller
By Elizabeth Speed
Alumnus Alex Su demonstrates that there is a place for every kind of student at Carnegie Mellon University.
He’s the first to admit that he wasn’t an academic standout, and he wasn’t working toward the career he’d dreamed about since childhood.
Instead, he crafted a unique and successful path that includes elements of law, technology and social media influencing.
Alex is the head of community development at Ironclad, a technology company that helps accelerate the contracting process for legal, procurement and other business teams. His role is part sales, part marketing and all about relationships
He connects with the company’s target audience because he used to be a lawyer and speaks to those in law through his series of funny and farcical social media posts.
“It’s the most serious of all subjects — law — with the silliest of silly things: TikTok,” says Alex, who graduated from Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences in 2005 with a bachelor’s degree in decision science.
Today, he has more than 200,000 followers across multiple social media platforms including TikTok, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn. He’s racked up millions of likes and more than a 100 million views in just the past two years.
In his videos, Alex pokes fun at law school rankings and alma mater hubris. He uses viral memes to explore serious topics facing lawyers including burnout and sense of purpose. He playfully explores the bind many lawyers often find themselves in, wanting a career with greater meaning but struggling to walk away from big paychecks. Each post speaks to life as a lawyer with witty honesty and deep respect.
“Most people who go to law school are naturally serious people and pretty intense,” Alex says. “I was very much a fish out of water. But because I was a funny guy in law, that’s what’s given me my voice today. I have a serious side and a silly side. The combination allows me to make jokes that have underlying substance.”
The Unconventional Road
There are some very traditional elements on Alex’s resume: he graduated from a top law school, clerked for a federal district court judge and worked for a prestigious law firm.
But he’ll candidly tell you, it almost wasn’t possible. During his junior year at CMU, he was placed on academic probation.
“I got a chance to talk to a CMU alum in investment banking, and asked him, ‘What do you think about me for an internship?’ He told me, ‘We would never hire you. Your grades are terrible. Why wouldn't we just hire somebody from Harvard or Yale?’”
“It was a slap in the face. That was the moment I was decided I wasn’t messing around anymore, and I got my stuff together.’”
He completely turned his grades around his last three semesters.
“I'm not naturally good at school, but I worked insanely hard,” Alex says. “I declared my major for decision science because I loved the coursework and really committed to it. I made better relationships with my professors, started writing for the student newspaper and got much more serious.”
After graduation, he talked his way into an entry-level role with IBM, a job that helped offset his weak grades when he applied to law schools. He distanced himself from his less-than-stellar academic undergrad transcript and sold his applications on his strengths. He was accepted into Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law, a journey he details in his self-published book “The Unauthorized Guide to Getting Into Law School With Bad Grades.”
While he doesn’t see his academic record at CMU as one of his highlights, his extracurricular experiences held unparalleled value.
“I was focused on making friends and getting involved in student groups,” Alex says. “At CMU, I discovered how to connect with people and make a name for myself by using the internet.”
Using a microblog platform during his first two years on campus, Alex got a lot of attention for his funny and engaging content. It opened up opportunities like becoming the president of the Taiwanese Students Association and chartering the fraternity Lambda Phi Epsilon, the first and only national Asian American interest fraternity. Leadership and public speaking opportunities helped him develop the kind of confidence to ask an investment banker for an internship and shoot for a top-ranked law school.
“College is where I really found myself,” Alex says. “It just wasn't in the classroom, and it wasn't academically.”
Up Next for Alex
Alex believes a broad wave of digital transformation is sweeping across every industry.
“It's kind of like the industrial revolution but with software this time, and it’s taking place everywhere,” Alex says. “But in the legal world, it's taking longer because lawyers are generally not early adopters of technology. At Ironclad, we're changing the way that legal teams do their work. We're automating some of the most tedious and time-consuming work to make contracting faster, so lawyers can serve their clients more effectively.”
Using his sense of humor and personality to be successful as well as help people is his end game, and one that he only realized recently.
But, in retrospect, it’s the path he’s been on since his first day at CMU.
“Everything good that’s happened to me was a result of some silly project, some late-night hangout session or some random person I met at Carnegie Mellon with no idea how it would fit into my career,” Alex says. “I just wanted to have a good time and meet people.”
“I've come to recognize the value of the community at CMU. It really helped me in the long run, even if I couldn't tell at the time. It’s had an incredible impact.”