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Tuesday, December 20, 2016
Social Media Creating New Hurdle for Law Students?
Across the U.S. there are two components to bar admission for every attorney in the country. A law exam, and a moral exam. The vetting process can take months or even years, depending on the particular state. The central regulating body-the National Conference of Bar Examiners-promises aspiring attorneys that they may be waiting 3-4 months for the results of the background checks.
The fitness exams run the gamut and will look into everything from criminal history to professional misconduct. Some states require law students to list speeding tickets. Areas such as mental health and substance abuse can get particularly sticky; such investigations can run afoul of privacy concerns proscribed by the Americans with Disabilities Act, and substance abuse history is arguably not a barrier to practice for attorneys in recovery. Still, the character exams leave few stones unturned.
Which is why it should come as little surprise that investigators may turn to social media accounts of applicants during the vetting process. What better way to uncover a person's moral fitness to practice law than by checking their Facebook page? I write this with only a whiff of sarcasm. While it seems unlikely that a sordid tweet may preclude an otherwise squeaky-clean candidate from bar admission, unsavory online behavior could be the straw that breaks the proverbial camel's back. (Unless you're the President-Elect).
Take the case of Otion Gjini, a Maryland bar applicant whose appeal of his admission denial was affirmed, based mostly on an undisclosed criminal history. But in the course of their review, the regulating body found a series of sexist and homophobic rants on Gjini's Facebook page, which, they claimed, would tend to "breed disrespect for the courts and for the legal profession".
Should all law students rush to scrub their social media profiles? As a matter of professional practice, it isn't a bad idea, but with a looming character and fitness exam, it may just be common sense.
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