Law-School Deans Give Troublesome Message Board Some Free Publicity

from the good-work dept

Last week, some law students complained that message-board postings were costing them job offers. Though the claim seemed pretty questionable, apparently the front-page story in the Washington Post about it was enough to get the deans of some law schools all riled up. The head of the schools at Yale and Penn are now whining about the site, though they realize they're powerless to stop it. The problem here isn't the site itself, really. While the content of postings on it may be annoying, if any messages are defamatory or libelous, the subjects of such messages have legal recourse against the author, not the forum provider (thanks again to Section 230 of the CDA). The problem (if there really is one) is potential employers reading way too much into some anonymous messages on some web site. While granted that it's probably some HR-tron checking out applicants' Google results, you would imagine that law firms would have some competency in evaluating the credibility of sources, and anonymous web postings, particularly when they're as colorful as the ones described in this case, wouldn't rank too highly. Now, of course, by sending out letters about the site to their schools' communities, the deans have simply made any students who didn't know about the site very aware of its existence, which will do little to accomplish their goal of eradicating it.


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  1.  
    identicon
    nonuser, Mar 12th, 2007 @ 7:37pm

    Internet version of a slam book

    The difference is that a old slam book was generally circulated among a handful of students (well, it could be more than a handful) but it never got into the hands of employers and others who could be making decisions on the kids' future... other than the assistant principal of the school itself, of course.

    Another semi-precedent would be the anonymous teacher evaluation guides that circulate around college campuses, which are openly available for sale. This is also different because the subjects are being evaluated in their capacity as professionals, by their customers who are paying a lot of money for their services. You could argue that they are public figures since all of them teach and most of them publish.

    Mike, I think you've gone to the well one too many times when you say that the deans are partly responsible for creating the problem by publicizing it. I'll bet a sizeable percentage (notice, I didn't say majority) of lawyers and law students under the age of 30 know about these sites and visit them for pure recreation. And if one of the finalists for an associate position is characterized in lurid detail as a whoring gold-digger, or worse, then... that could trigger in people's mind some odd question the candidate asked during an interview. Confirmation! Better hire the other candidate who we don't know for sure is a loser.

    Maybe there should be some laws mandating minimum responsiveness to authenticated take-down requests of defamatory information against non-public figures.

     

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  2.  
    identicon
    Jim Harper, Mar 12th, 2007 @ 8:51pm

    WaPo story challenged

    Ilya Somin at Volokh Conspiracy put forward a pretty nice challenge to the theory that these message boards harmed the victim's job prospects.

    http://volokh.com/posts/1173598400.shtml

    "Like this person, when I interviewed for law firm summer associate jobs as a second year student at Yale, I had 'graduated Phi Beta Kappa [from my undergrad institution], ha[d] published in top legal journals and completed internships at leading institutions in [my] field.' And, very similar to her, after interviewing at a dozen big DC firms, I ended up with two call backs and zero offers. Why did this happen? Frantic later investigation showed that the main culprits were precisely some of the credentials listed above. Because of them (particularly the publications), firms feared that I would go into academia and either never take a permanent job with the firm, or leave after just a year or two. A highly paid associate who quickly jumps ship for academia is far less profitable for a firm than one that stays for several years and can eventually bill hours as a senior associate."

     

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  3.  
    icon
    Vincent Clement (profile), Mar 13th, 2007 @ 3:42pm

    Carlo, it seems more and more companies are interested in avoiding potential future embarrassing situations than hiring the best candidate. I know in my own workplace, applying for a job now consists of first having the proper qualifications (no more giving people a change with less than the required qualifications) and then scoring the highest on the interview (which is based on hitting the right keywords not your actual knowledge or experience). HR is gone to pot.

     

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  4.  
    identicon
    |333173|3|_||3, Mar 14th, 2007 @ 8:37am

    If even a tenth of the stuff said about me in falme wars was believed, (even taking into account the mutual contradictions), I would not only be completely unemployable, but also someone who should be taken out he back and shot, immediately and without trial. but It won't because I know enough about personal privacy to avoid that.
    Any HR drone who believes anonymous fourm posts should be fired before he makes an expensive mistake. Likewise anyone who believes that what has been posted is either a true reflection of anyones actual beliefs either now or then.

     

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