Jan 3, 2017 at 12:00am ET By Joanna Hughes

Most prospective law students are aware of the potential impact of their social media profiles on their chances at getting accepted. After all, an increasing number of admissions officers admit to using social media to vet candidates during the application process. But the truth is that imprudent use of social media can not only continue to haunt you throughout your life, but can actually prevent you from working as a lawyer. This is exactly what happened to law school grad Otion Gjini, as recently reported by D Magazine. Here’s a closer look at his cautionary tale, along with what other aspiring lawyers can learn from it.

Character Counts

It’s no secret that lawyers don’t often score high on lists of most trusted professionals. (We’ve all heard the lawyer jokes, after all.) But in reality the legal sector holds practitioners to high standards of professionalism, civility and integrity -- standards which the Maryland Court of Appeals determined that Gjini fell short of achieving when he applied for admission to practice. Specifically, Gjini’s application was denied on “character and fitness” grounds in part in response to “patently offensive” comments he’d made on his Facebook page during his last year of law school.

Said Maryland State Board of Bar Examiners Character Committee Chairman Benjamin Vaughan of Gjini’s posts,  “The very fact that such expressions directed at any person within our community would continue to find any degree of acceptance in our culture, pop or otherwise, might be the most compelling reason why they should not be tolerated among members of the legal profession. The legal profession cannot aspire to justice on behalf of just some members of the community to the exclusion of others.”

Takeaways for Law Students

Certainly, Gjini’s case is an extreme one due to the particularly egregious nature of his comments. But this doesn’t negate the lesson in his example, nor does it prescribe a complete withdrawal from social media. Why not? Because experts insist that savvy social media use can be a plus for students looking to distinguish themselves through their positive attributes in today’s intensely competitive job market.

In other words and as with most things in life, it all comes down to finding the balance. One rule of thumb for getting it right? Apply the same level of judiciousness to your social media presence as you would in the classroom or courtroom.

Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.

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