In a 2014 study by LinkedIn, 45% of employers admitted checking out prospective employees on social media — and 1 in 3 admitted rejecting a candidate based on what they found. Yet in a landscape where job seekers already have to contend with a free criminal background check or drug tests, credit checks, and verification of employment history, education, and income, for many recent law school graduates the addition of a so-called “ideological screen” is no deal-breaker.
From a job candidate’s perspective, there are obvious drawbacks to having a potential boss rooting around in old (or not-so-old) pictures of partying or other behavior that might paint a less-than-appealing image. But Class of 2017 law school grads don’t object, according to a new Kaplan Bar Review survey of over 700 aspiring attorneys: 78% think it’s “fair game” for prospective employers in the legal industry to visit job applicants’ social networking profiles like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to help them make hiring decisions.
“Our survey finds that tomorrow’s lawyers are not only fine with prospective employers and state bar examiners looking at their social media trails, but it many cases think it’s a good idea because it may be necessary to protect the legal professional and individual legal practices,” says Tammi Rice, vice president, Kaplan Bar Review, in a news release announcing the poll findings.
‘WHEN YOU REPRESENT YOUR COMPANY … YOU HAVE A HIGHER LEVEL TO UPHOLD’
Kaplan conducted the survey via email in July and August. It includes responses from 714 law school graduates from the class of 2017. The survey gave recent grads the opportunity not only to answer questions but to opine at length on the issue; grads who think it’s appropriate for employers to vet prospective employees using social media shared some pointed opinions. “A person’s social media presence is an extension of who they are and who they want to be perceived as,” one graduate wrote. “You could have a completely capable candidate for a position who meets all of an employer’s qualifications on paper and in an interview, but if the person acts in a contrary manner on social media it can not only affect what potential clients think about the attorney, but also about the employer. “
Wrote another grad: “It’s useful to know what kind of person an applicant is, particularly their personality and temperament, as opposed to what goes on a resume. Use of these sites is voluntary and if an applicant doesn’t want an employer to see the things they post then they shouldn’t post them.”
“Professionalism,” added another grad, “does not stop at work. When you represent your company, especially within the legal field, you have a higher level to uphold. The best way to truly see a person is how they act on their personal page and majority of the time it shows their true character.”
‘WHAT I CHOOSE TO DO IN MY PERSONAL LIFE IS WHAT I DO IN MY PERSONAL LIFE’
Not everyone concurred. “Attorneys should have an ethical standard that they hold themselves to,” one dissenter wrote, “however, what I choose to do in my personal life is what I do in my personal life. There is no reason that an employer should try to see what I do during my personal time.”
“An applicant’s personal life is separate from his professional life,” another graduate wrote, “and that separation should be honored especially when employers solely want someone who will be proficient in their work environment.”
Added another: “Employers hired people before social media existed based on what they had in front of them, and didn’t need to judge people’s social lives to make their hiring decisions. I’m not sure why they would need to do so now.”
ERRING ON THE SIDE OF CAUTION
Kaplan also found that most 2017 law school graduates (66%) were OK with a state bar’s fitness and character committee visiting law license applicants’ social networking profiles to help them make decisions about who gets admitted to the bar. Just 7% of survey respondents said they would be concerned about prospective employers or a state bar’s fitness and character committee finding posts that would negatively impact their young careers.
“We know that aspiring attorneys are not a shy group,” Rice says, “but given that many of the people who might make or break their legal careers could be seeing what they post, it’s always better to err on the side of caution.
“We encourage a healthy exchange of ideas and the right to express yourself, but it’s not without risk when it comes to your livelihood. You don’t necessarily have to share everything.”