In a strange way, applying to law school is a little like being accused of a crime.
Admissions committees will scrutinize your past actions, future intentions, and ulterior motives as rigorously as any jury or judge. Your recommenders will be called to vouch for you like witnesses on the stand. And much like any good prosecutor, the admissions representatives at Competitive Dream Law School X will do everything in their power to ensure that no “guilty” (read: undeserving) party gains admission to their esteemed institution.
Let me guess what you’re thinking: But I’ve already written a killer application essay. My undergrad grades are top-notch. I annihilated the LSAT. What could go wrong? It’s all up to fate now.
Even if you have the perfect application package (and if so—congratulations are in order), try thinking like your future defense-attorney self. This isn’t the 19th century; gone is the age of “hospitality” and “manners,” when people welcomed perfect strangers into their homes for cookies and tea. This is the Internet age, the era of disconnection and disaffection, and law enthusiasts are savvy enough not to take things at face value.
So if your personal statement gushes about a year spent volunteering at countless Russian orphanages, don’t expect the admissions committee at Competitive Dream Law School X to automatically believe you. On the contrary, expect them to scour your Facebook pictures for pictures of you frolicking with the kids. And if instead, they find evidence of you downing shots of Petrov with Russian submarine captains—expect to kiss your almost-spot at Competitive Dream Law School X goodbye.
It’s an extreme example, yes, but you can guess where we’re going with this. Today’s law school professors, administrators, and admissions representatives aren’t Luddites. In fact, most of them are Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google aficionados—or at least have the know-how to use social networking tools to their advantage. With a click of the mouse, admissions committees can unearth unsavory biographical details and blurry late-night party shots they’d never have had access to a decade ago.
So, unless you want the Dean of Harvard Law to see you doing keg-stands on the quad—clean up your online footprint!
“We are constantly Googling, Facebooking, and searching Blogger.com and other sites for applicants,” says Karen DeMeola, an admissions officer at the University of Connecticut Law School. It’s a good idea to search for yourself in various online forums. DeMeola’s advice: “Untag yourself from all those ‘every day is St. Patrick’s Day’ photos.”
And certainly don’t give schools a reason to muckrake. “We don’t research students as a rule,” says Nate Kenyon, Director of Marketing and Communications at Boston College Law School, “but if there was cause for concern… we would look around.” So, “be professional, be patient, and be respectful” in your correspondence, Kenyon advises. “Technology allows for communication with admissions to be easier and faster, but it can cause problems if a prospective student is aggressive or persistent, firing off an email without thinking.” One Temple University admissions officer recalls coming across an email that addressed the Director of Admission as, simply, “Hey!” An amateur move like that might not be the end of the world—but it definitely won’t tip the scales in your favor.
Lawyers are expected to exude professionalism; you might as well begin now. If your current email address is [email protected] or [email protected], change it. Extricate yourself from embarrassing blogs or picture-sharing sites. Keep in mind that law school applications are designed to reveal more about you than undergraduate applications. Law schools are scouring applications for the best possible future lawyers—i.e. they’re looking not only for people with high GPAs and LSAT scores, but also for people with solid character traits and enough common sense to moderate a responsible, professional social presence.
Fortunately for all of us, though, technology isn’t all doom and gloom. Online social networks have also opened up new opportunities for communication and control. Many law schools have vibrant Facebook communities that applicants can “visit” for a first-hand view into the content and tone of conversations on-campus. Elizabeth Schmalz, Director of Communications at Columbia Law School, notes that the Columbia Facebook page “is pretty active. It’s a community-building space for us, aimed primarily at our alumni. But it also offers a way for people to drop in on the Columbia law community and start to make their own connections, especially since it’s not always easy to people to get here.”
Be careful not to cause too much of a stir on law-school forums or Facebook communities, though. In fact, it’s probably best to “lurk”—at least until you’ve gained one of the coveted first-year spots at Competitive Dream Law School X. After all, you never know how your comments—no matter how seemingly uncontroversial—might be interpreted.
This guest post is authored by Meghan Daniels, the Associate Editor at Knewton.