Law schools check Facebook for admissions

Online character can be just as influential as good LSAT scores.

A recent survey of university admissions officers suggests that students applying to law schools should be more careful with the digital trail left by Facebook postings and pictures.

The Kaplan Test Prep  survey showed law school admissions officers are 20 percent more likely to check applicants’ online activity than general college admissions officers.

The survey showed 41 percent of law school admissions officers admitting to Googling an applicant to learn more about them, compared with 22 percent of business school admissions officers and 20 percent of general college admissions officers. Thirty-seven percent of law admissions officers admitted to checking a Facebook profile as well.

“Often law schools will be looking for additional information on a candidate — good or bad — near the end of the admissions process,” said Jeff Thomas, director of pre-law programs at Kaplan. “When law schools have additional questions about a candidate, it makes sense that they might turn to public databases to help get them a little bit more information.”

Statuses about being hung over, inappropriate pictures, links to offensive websites and even old pictures of underage drinking are all common offenses that could undermine a good LSAT score or undergraduate GPA, Thomas said.

One University of Minnesota law student’s Facebook page, accessed on Sunday, had two unflattering statuses: “My husband’s drunk and acting retarted,” and “I’m broke again!!!”

These types of statuses can hurt an applicants’ chance of being admitted.

University Law School officials tell students to hide their personal profiles.

“We recommend that everyone protect their online profile,” said Alexandra Klass, associate dean for academic affairs at the University’s Law School. “Many employers check Facebook profiles for applicants, too.”

She said all law students are required to take a class on basic professional ethics.

The Kaplan study also notes that 32 percent of law admissions officers found something damaging to the candidate online. About 12 percent of college admissions officers and 14 percent of business school admissions officers said the same.

But the findings can only be due to the extremely high standards law schools use to determine what will be considered ethical or not, Thomas said.

On a website like Facebook, a student’s obvious criminal activity would be a major disqualifier, Klass said. But evidence of dishonesty would raise a red flag for admissions officers too, as well as an indication of irresponsible spending, since attorneys must often manage their clients’ funds.

“We don’t want to turn out lawyers who can’t responsibly represent clients or who can’t pass the bar [exam],” Klass said.

“It’s like what the Supreme Court said about the definition of profanity. There’s no way to define it, but you’ll know it when you see it. That’s sort of what this is,” Thomas said.

As part of the Bar Exam, an applicant must undergo a character and fitness evaluation, where administrators look deep into the applicant’s profile to see if they exercised good judgment in the past or if they’ve upheld every law in their chosen jurisdiction, Thomas said.

The discrepancy between law schools and other graduate programs could also be due to a simple lack of time.

The computer science department at the University, for example, has more than 1,000 applicants each year, said Georganne Tolaas, coordinator for graduate student services in the department. If admissions officers want to check an online profile for extra research, that’s on their own time, she said.

“But it’s not a regular thing that we do,” Tolaas said.

Abou Amara, president of the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly, said that as technology improves, students have to become more and more aware of the personal information and the presence they have online.

“It’s definitely better to err on the side of caution,” Amara said. “A rule I’ve heard is: ‘Would your mother approve of that picture?’”

As digital trails become more a part of everyday life, the trend of using them to determine a candidate’s success will continue, Thomas said.

“It only makes sense that they will seep into places that they traditionally have not been, such as job interviews or school applications,” he said.