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Florida Bar Begins Checking Applicants’ Facebook Pages

If your Facebook status is “wants to be a lawyer,” be careful what else you put on your page.

The board that licenses new lawyers has signed off on a proposal to examine personal Web sites such as Facebook or MySpace as part of the background check for applicants to the Bar.

The suggestions are included in recommendations from the Character and Fitness Commission, which was created by Justice Fred Lewis when he was chief justice and approved by the Florida Bar’s Board of Bar Examiners.

Though all lawyers-to-be would not have to give bar examiners access to their Facebook or MySpace passwords, the commission laid out, and the board endorsed, several groups that would. They include:

-Applicants with a history of substance abuse

-Applicants with “significant candor concerns”

-Applicants who have faced allegations of unlicensed practice of law

-Applicants who have who have worked as a Certified Legal Intern, reported self-employment in a legal field, or reported employment as an attorney pending admission

-Applicants who have positively indicated involvement in an organization advocating the overthrow of the U.S. government or of any state or political subdivision

The board will examine online sites on a case-by-case basis, said board executive director Michele Gavagni. Extenuating circumstances would cause the board to look at Facebook or MySpace, she said.

The recommendations are contained in a document filed at the Supreme Court, though most elements how the board does its background checks, including whether it checks social networking sites, wouldn’t need Supreme Court approval.

In the document, the board reasoned “that if applicants are required to provide access to their social websites, they are likely to delete any derogatory material before staff has the opportunity to review it.”

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