Law schools check applicants' Facebook profiles

A Kaplan Test Prep study found 37 percent of law school admissions officers check applicants' Facebook profiles

· November 13, 2011, 9:36 pm   ·  Updated November 15, 2011, 1:17 am

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Students interested in applying to law school may think twice about their status updates.

Thirty-seven percent of law school admissions officers admitted to checking an applicant’s Facebook profile to learn more about him or her, according to a recent study by Kaplan Test Prep.

The study, published last month, surveyed undergraduate, business school and law school admissions officers from 359 different schools.

Google is an even more popular tool for law school admissions officers. Forty-one percent of officers use this search engine to check up on applicants, while only 27 percent of business school admissions officers and 20 percent of general college admissions officers conduct this practice.

“Clearly, an applicant’s digital trail can be an indicator of whether or not he or she possesses [an ability to exercise good judgment],” said the director of pre-law programs at Kaplan Jeff Thomas in a statement. “Despite jokes and negative stereotyping of lawyers, the reality is that the legal community takes ethics among its members very seriously.”

At the Law School, however, the admissions office said there has yet to be a case where an applicant is rejected solely on the basis of their online profile. But admissions officers do turn to social media when needed.

“There are some instances when the Admission Committee may refer to an applicant’s social media presence,” Associate Dean for Admissions at Penn Law Renee Post wrote in an email. “For example, if a candidate notes in their application materials that they are a blogger, or involved in an organization with which Admissions Committee members are unfamiliar, a resulting online search may yield social media results.”

To fly under the radar, students may deactivate their Facebook and Twitter accounts when applying to law schools.

Second-year Law student Kimberly Wexler wrote in an email that she “noticed a trend of deactivating Facebook accounts during interview or admissions periods.”

“I don’t think this is because there is anything incriminating on people’s Facebook pages, but simply that they are playing it safe. Rather safe than sorry,” added Wexler, the vice chair of communications of the Graduate and Professional Students Assembly.
College senior and pre-law student Jacob Silverman said he is not surprised that law schools are turning to applicants’ Facebook profiles.

“This has been a practice in the job market, so it makes sense schools would do it too,” he wrote in an email.

He also noted that some people change their privacy settings to ensure that they are protected online.

“I don’t think I have improper materials that could affect my admissions status, but I do use high privacy settings for everyone who is not my facebook friend,” Silverman added. “I do know of many [people] who change their pages during [On-Campus Recruiting].”

Thomas explained that this is a natural trend given the code of conduct that is expected among future lawyers.

“Once you are admitted, unethical behavior can lead to your disbarment, stripping you of your ability to practice. Not many other professions have that kind of enforceable code of conduct, so it’s natural that law schools screen more stringently and more often,” he said in a Kaplan statement.

Wexler agrees with Thomas on the importance of ethical behavior.

“Law schools have to cultivate a delicate balance between competitive and collegial atmosphere,” Wexler wrote. “This is probably true in many vocational schools, but since law school and business school are less skills-based, there is probably greater interest/concern over the personalities that compose each class.”

Post advised students to remember that online content is often permanent, and it may have unexpected results in the future.

“It is important to note that what an applicant posts to the web is often permanent, and such information may have unforeseen consequences in their future academic or professional pursuits,” she wrote.

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