The world is increasingly public. By that I mean that our privacy is consistently challenged. Not just by society as a whole, but by ourselves. This current generation of law students is being raised in an unprecedentedly open society. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr and a myriad of other social media outlets have given young people unchecked opportunities to expose themselves however they want. Now, more than ever, it is important for prospective lawyers and legal professionals to remember that even the most innocuous post on, say, Facebook is a direct public representation of themselves. Those keeping track of this representation are not only friends, family and acquaintances; they are also potential employees and clients. This has become true in the job sector as a whole, but with an occupation as communal as the law it is crucial to keep a respectable public profile.
Colleges across the country have gone beyond the SAT scores, personal essays and high school GPA’s to judge whether students have what they are looking for. The accessibility of social media has proved too enticing for admissions departments to pass up. It offers another, much more intimate side to the applicator and therefore a fuller picture previously made to those choosing their student body. Even if—as deans of admission have stated—colleges are using Facebook more as an introduction rather than an investigation, anyone that has ever used Facebook knows that there isn’t very much difference between the two.
The situation begs a few questions:
1. Are colleges and universities right in doing this?
• Very few higher learning institutions have any type of formal admissions policy when it comes to using social media to judge the merits of potential students. This leaves a huge gray area in which the admissions people can, essentially, roam around at their whim.
• Many students feel that a distinct separation between their online profile and their academic profile should be made. Although a social media profile is understood to be a very casual representation of you, it is nonetheless a representation of yourself. If there is something in your profile that you preferred not to be shared with the world, it simply shouldn’t be on there.
• Since said information is voluntarily entered into the public domain (e.g. a status update) there is very little argument against a school or possible employee utilizing that information to learn more about a student, whatever qualms some may have.
2. What should a law student’s approach be?
• In a survey, over thirty percent of law school admissions professionals said that in researching students over the Internet they have come across something that has negatively affected their chances for admission.
• Students aspiring to be lawyers, in polls conducted by Kaplan, have unanimously stated themselves that, as law students, they should be held to higher standards than many other professions. The world is not a black-and-white slate. Some occupations merit loftier expectations than others, just like these polled students realize. Respect for the legal field should come, foremost, from those in it.
• Be smart. Simple words which should be repeated over and over again in the mind of a law student. Knowing that law schools will potentially Google you, exercise caution when posting aspects of your life on the Internet. Is it okay to post a photograph of you and your significant other in front of the Louvre? Yes. Is it appropriate to post a photograph of you and your friends doing keg stands? Probably not. Let’s put it this way: before posting a revealing picture ask yourself, “Would I accept this person into my law school?”
3. How would all this apply to life after law school?
• Just as law school will prepare you for the “X’s and O’s,” so to speak, of the profession, it also should be looked at as a dress rehearsal for the real legal world. After all, you’re not learning how to be a law student; you’re learning how to be a lawyer.
• There is little doubt that someone who is interested in hiring you as their legal representation won’t Google you first. This is the way of the world now and it is no different when it comes to lawyers. In fact, it is probably even more so the case. Reputation and legitimacy are a working lawyer’s bread and butter. With the wealth of legal choices always out there for clients, it would take very little to persuade someone to look at other options. Don’t let an irresponsible photograph or Tweet is the dissuading factor.
Whatever your personal feelings are towards the investigative actions of law school admissions, just know that it is fruitless not to adhere to this methodology. Right or wrong, fair or unfair, law schools have the right to do this. Is an overly revealing personal tidbit or sharing an unsavory party photograph really worth risking your future in the legal world?