October 25, 2011
Law School Applicants Now Have The Social Test Along With The LSAT
It comes as no surprise that a growing number of law school admission offices are starting to use the “public” web as a way of investigating potential law students. A Kaplan survey is showing that 41% of admissions officers have Googled a candidate and 37% check out their presence on social media such as Facebook. Comparatively, the stats are less for other educational opportunities. Undergraduate background checks are 20% for Google and 24% for social media, and for business school the numbers are 27% and 22% respectively.
This may be, as some have pointed out, due to the heightened ethical obligations of lawyers to their clients and the courts. No doubt this is true. I think it’s a bit more than that. Lawyers are not merely a regulated business, but one regulated by the courts. Students have to undergo character and fitness tests to even take the bar. It’s not as if there are detailed published standards for a passing the character and fitness hurdle. That gives the examining committees a lot of leeway in making people sweat. I have heard anecdotally that senior law students pay off accumulated parking and traffic tickets so they can report no outstanding fines. Good citizens, all, at least close to the bar exam.
I would think that law schools have a conservative interest in making sure those they process to the bar exam will pass scrutiny. The problem is that people are fond describing their activities to the world without thinking that the world includes prospective employers or regulators. Here’s an example from the Washington Post in an article by Melissa Bell:
A friend hunts deer in Germany. His Facebook profile shows him hoisting a rifle in the air. Another friend wrote on Twitter last month, “On plane. Just took Ambien. Twitter is my dreams. You are all glue. Happy birthday cellphone!”
Innocent pursuits perhaps: The Ambien was prescribed; the rifle is licensed. Even so, my friends would likely fail a social media background check.
Bell raised that example while describing how social media is used for prospective employment. The problem isn’t necessarily red flags a background check might raise as much as there is little opportunity to account for them. 32% of the Kaplan survey respondents said they found something that negatively affected an application. I think it would be rare for a law school admissions officer to call up a potential student and ask if the prescription and the gun were legal. Even so, that call might be jarring to the applicant. There might be additional posts as mundane as “Got my Ambien prescription filled” which might offer context. That’s a bit vacuous, even for some social posts, but who am I to tell people what information they reveal about themselves. Beyond that, will the admissions officer even see it?
The problem isn’t limited to what an individual might post about him or herself. With photo tagging now searchable, third parties can identify people in casual social situations that may not flatter them to their employers. Like to drink? No problem, as alcohol is not only legal but advertised for sale. Like to drink a lot? Hey, there are pictures of this guy drinking excessively at parties every week. Do we want to hire / let him into law school? It’s a value judgment, so draw your own conclusion.
I think Jean-Paul Sartre said it best: You are--your life, and nothing else. Social media is just that big picture window that lets unconnected others evaluate it because it is simply that easy. [MG]