After Maclen Stanley’s ’18 book, “The Law Says What?: Stuff You Didn’t Know About the Law (but Really Should!),” published last summer, he quickly realized that he’d have to take on much of the publicity himself. So, he asked his wife, Ashleigh Ruggles Stanley ’18, to help him create a “silly TikTok” account to help promote it.
Maclen had to work hard to convince her to do it. “I was a big naysayer,” said Ashleigh. “I didn’t want to be the millennial on TikTok that thinks they can dance and do the trends. That’s not who I am. I’m a professional and have an image to uphold.” But Maclen assured her it was going to be about “law stuff.”
The couple — members of Section 2 who met in their first class on their first day at Harvard Law School — are self-described “law nerds” and love talking about the law, but they were convinced no one on TikTok would care, and would find the legal content boring. But the account that started out promoting Maclen’s book quickly turned into a legal explainer channel. The “Harvard Law Spouses” started to produce short takes on contemporary issues — like vaccine mandates and the Tinder Swindler — injecting some humor to make them more engaging. It was a success. Soon they were getting up to 10 million views a week.
Their TikTok efforts helped book sales tremendously, and have also led to other prospects. “We get contacted almost every day about a new opportunity,” said Maclen. They hired an agent and now there’s a potential television show in the works. “The show would be an expansion of our TikTok channel — the two of us hosting a legal education type show.” They have also been invited to speak on national news channels and at conferences around the country.
At Harvard, Ashleigh and Maclen both took an innovation and the law class (now called Legal Innovation Through Design Thinking) with Professor of Practice and Director of Executive Education Scott Westfahl ’88 where they learned to articulate and pitch concisely, effectively, and quickly. “His classes were all about presenting and the goal of the class was ‘let’s innovate the legal system,’” said Maclen. “It’s been really helpful for TikTok.”
While the couple is happy with their current jobs — Ashleigh is an entertainment lawyer and Maclen has his own firm — this experience has made them think about other possibilities. Both are passionate about education — Maclen taught and went to the Harvard Graduate School of Education and Ashleigh thought about teaching before going to law school — and about breaking down information into bite-sized pieces so people can more easily “get it.”
“I think this experience has made us realize information sharing matters — whether it’s a professor job later, or a TV show, or more books, or only ever on TikTok and YouTube,” said Ashleigh. “We’ve both been pleasantly surprised by how much reach you can have just through these platforms.”