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Will Bar Associations Review Facebook for Applicants' Fitness?

Maybe it's just as well that most bar associations remain in the dark about Facebook and other social media. Via Above the Law, comes news from True/Slant  that:

The Florida Bar Examiners, the group that decides who gets to become a lawyer in Florida, is considering forcing some wannabe lawyers to be subjected to a thorough social networking investigation prior to their being knighted esquires. Florida bar examiners will look for evidence of substance abuse in applicants with a history of those problems, and will of course check to see if you would like to overthrow the government.

In particular, the Florida Bar intends to single out the following applicants:

• Applicants who are required to establish rehabilitation under Rule 3-13 “so as to ascertain whether they displayed any malice or ill feeling towards those who were compelled to bring about the proceeding leading to the need to establish rehabilitation;”
• Applicants with a history of substance abuse/dependence “so as to ascertain whether they discussed or posted photographs of any recent substance abuse;”
• Applicants with “significant candor concerns” including not telling the truth on employment applications or resumes;
• Applicants with a history of unlicensed practice of law (UPL) allegations;
• Applicants who have worked as a certified legal intern, reported self-employment in a legal field, or reported employment as an attorney pending admission “to ensure that these applicants are not holding themselves out as attorneys;”
• Applicants who have positively responded to Item 27 of the bar application disclosing “involvement in an organization advocating the overthrow of a government in the United States to find out if they are still involved in any related activities.”

The Bar's policy doesn't make much sense, though. If applicants have already admitted to a history of substance abuse, why does the Bar have a need to see photos of them on Facebook in a drugged state? Likewise, if applicants have a history of UPL allegations, is Facebook really going to help? After all, if a lawyer is committing UPL, is he or she going to post about it in a Facebook status report? ("Tricked a judge today, and represented a client even though I didn't pass the bar.") Though I don't endorse examining Facebook at all, if the Bar is going to do it, then the policy should apply to all candidates and not just those who are already suspect.

Again, though I don't endorse review of Facebook pages, this policy wouldn't be out of step with what other employers are doing. The True/Slant piece notes that more than a third of managers admitted to not offering jobs based on what they found on applicants' social media pages. Because reliance on social media in job selection is becoming more prevalent, Daniel Solove of Concurring Opinions suggests that, at the very least, managers put candidates on notice that they intend to check their Facebook accounts.

Do you think bar associations should rely on social media to determine bar admission? And where do we draw the line on those aspects of a bar applicant's private life that can be deemed relevant to his or her fitness as a lawyer? Or does putting one's private life on Facebook, by definition, make it public?

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on August 31, 2009 at 05:27 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)


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