While events in question took place long before Facebook and Instagram existed, it is clear from former Yale Law School student Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings that looking into a prospective lawyer or judge’s high-school career is now the norm, evidenced by scrutiny of the nominee’s calendar entries and personal writings. In the age of social media, the availability of such information has only proliferated and become more of a potential liability for future law students.
If you want to get into law school, it may be better not post that video of your underage self shot-gunning a beer to your Facebook page. And while you’re at it, leave your obsession with actual shot guns off your Twitter account.
It turns out that more than half of law school admissions officials recently surveyed by Kaplan Test Prep—56 percent—said they have looked at the applicants’ social media to get a better sense of them. And fully 91 percent said that social media is fair game when culling through applications.
Law schools appear to monitor social media more closely than do business schools. Just 40 percent of admissions officers at business schools told Kaplan they look at applicants’ digital trails, and only 71 percent reported such activity as appropriate, rather than an invasion of privacy.
The highly regulated nature of the legal profession explains why law schools are more careful about who they allow in the door, according to Jeff Thomas, executive director of pre-law programs at Kaplan. New attorneys must pass character and fitness examines before they are admitted to the bar, and they can be stripped of their law license for engaging in unethical behavior.
“An overarching theme to the entire law school application is whether a prospective student is able to exercise good judgment. An applicant’s digital trail can be an indicator of whether or not he or she possesses this quality,” Thomas said. “The legal community takes ethics among its members seriously.”
Law admissions offices have more heavily relied on social media reviews in recent years. Just 37 percent said they looked at social media pages in 2011, when Kaplan first asked the question.
Of those who check social media pages, 66 percent told Kaplan that they had found something that hurt a candidate’s chances, such as inappropriate photos of underage drinking or other undesirable activities. Some officials reported seeing racist things on social media, or even criminal activity.
“A student who had a lot of character and fitness issues involving drugs and alcohol in their past claimed that they were now living sober, but their Facebook page was full of them partying,” according to one survey comment.
“A student was admitted but had a fascination with guns so we had to discuss this with him,” reads other comment.
Social media isn’t always a hindrance to getting into law school, however. Among the admissions officials who look there, 29 percent said they found something that helped an applicant, namely community service activities they didn’t initially mention.