For the new generation of law students and recent graduates, maintaining a professional appearance extends far beyond a full suit and an error-proof résumé — it means keeping it clean on the Internet.
Sixty-one percent of professional services companies, which include law firms, conduct Google searches on job candidates, according to a survey conducted by the Ponemon Institute, a private research organization in Traverse City, Mich.
And more than half of the professional services employers also search social network Web sites such as Facebook or Myspace to obtain additional data about a job candidate, the survey found.
“It’s simple to do and it would be irresponsible not to,” said Sally Stratman, executive director of Rubin and Rudman, a 72-attorney firm in Boston. The firm has conducted Google searches for the past three years, she said.
Knowing there is a chance legal employers may research job candidates online, law schools are now including “student professionalism” discussions and courses in their orientation programs and curriculum, said Gihan Fernando, assistant dean for careers services at Georgetown University Law Center. And two professors at Drake University Law School in Des Moines, Iowa, are speaking to law school faculty throughout the country about their course, “Professionalism in Virtual Communication.”
The “millennial” generation thrives on virtual communication, said Melissa Weresh, a Drake law professor who co-founded and teaches the course.
“We have to show them instances of when something you think is noncontroversial may come back and hurt you,” she said.
And if the hurtful information is already on the Internet, new services, such as ReputationDefender Inc., are being utilized by lawyers to “clean up” their reputation or to make sure nothing untrue is published online, said Michael Fertik, founder of ReputationDefender, who said many of his clients are lawyers.
Online attacks made headlines earlier this year when three Yale Law School students alleged that their difficulty finding jobs was linked to derogatory, anonymous postings on an Internet message board called “AutoAdmit.”
“People want to keep track of what is out there on them,” Fertik said, who launched ReputationDefender in October 2006. “People have said dumb things on the Internet, and if they have smashed their current law firm or employer, it shows the person has bad judgment and are not professional. But if they regret what they wrote, then they can have us work to take it down.”