Act like you're being watched.  Because you are.

One of the most enjoyable parts of the annual pre-law advisors’ conference is hearing law school admissions officials share their craziest application stories—personal statements, follow-up emails and other applicant encounters that are so unimaginably outrageous that the panel is titled “You’re Not Going to Believe This.”  The behavior described is truly beyond the pale, so I’m not really worried that any of you—reasonably sane UMass Amherst students and alumni—would actually engage in anything remotely approaching this nuttiness. Rather, the panel is revealing for another reason: it makes clear each year just how much information the admissions officers are gathering about you.  You’re no doubt planning to make your application package as convincing and respectable as possible.  You may even be double-checking the privacy settings on your Facebook profile just now.  But the admissions officials go well beyond this low-hanging fruit.  You should assume that every encounter you have with anyone affiliated with the law school, every online uttering you publish, every step you take, every move you make… well, you get the idea. They’re watching you.

So what does that mean for how you conduct yourself over the next year of application madness (and beyond)?  I’ve got a few tips.

Be professional. Getting the runaround from some bored low-level staffer in a law school admissions office?  Remain calm and polite.  Any venting you might engage in will no doubt be noted in your file.  This is good practice for being a lawyer—it’s a remarkably small law world out there, and lawyers have long memories. (And low-level staffers—in courts, law firms and elsewhere—wield a tremendous amount of power.  Much more than law students and new attorneys.)  This is really easier than you can imagine: just be a good person.

Google yourself. How’s that internet profile looking? Drunk party pix and curse-filled twitter rants?  They can’t all be attributed to that girl in Iowa who has your exact same name.  Law school admissions officers only need a few more details about you to narrow the search anyway (and, thanks to your application, they possess a LOT more details about you).  Clean up your online persona.  (After you google yourself, try googling “clean up online profile” for endless links to helpful tips.)

Don’t assume you’re anonymous. So my favorite story at the conference this year came from the admissions director at a “top law school.”  He revealed that his office monitors references to his law school on the forums of  “top law school dot com” (a site I refuse to link to, due to the copious amounts of misinformation found therein). When a series of posts by one “anonymous” user were brought to his attention—posts maligning his own institution with any number of misrepresentations—he did a little sleuthing.  Based on the information the individual had posted about himself in the forums, the admissions director was able to easily match the poster to one of his applicant files. You can guess the rest.

Remember that you never know who you might run into.  In real life, I mean.  Offline.  As in the virtual world, be professional, don’t assume you’re anonymous, and don’t assume that person you’re talking to isn’t affiliated with a law school you hope to attend.