This recent Washington Post article focuses on a Yale Law School student who believes that false derogatory statements about her personal life posted on a anonymous internet chat site prevented her from getting any offers for summer associate jobs. The article has generated a major blogosphere debate about the dangers of anonymous commentary on the internet (e.g. here, here, and co-conspirator Randy Barnett here).
Most of the commentators appear to assume that the YLS student is right to believe that her failure to get an offer was caused by the chat site posts. I am not so sure. According to the Post:
[The student] graduated Phi Beta Kappa, has published in top legal journals and completed internships at leading institutions in her field. So when the Yale law student interviewed with 16 firms for a job this summer, she was concerned that she had only four call-backs. She was stunned when she had zero offers.
Though it is difficult to prove a direct link, the woman thinks she is a victim of a new form of reputation-maligning: online postings with offensive content and personal attacks that can be stored forever and are easily accessible through a Google search.
I sympathize with her dilemma, but I doubt that it was caused by the chat site. How do I know? Because the same thing happened to me! 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.
Of course, I don't know for sure that what happened to me also happened to the student discussed in the article. But, in addition to the issue of her publications in "top law journals," there are two other reasons to doubt that the chat site comments played a decisive role. First, most people know that anonymous comments on chat sites are often inaccurate, and intelligent employers are unlikely to give them great credence - especially if doing so leads them to pass up a strong job applicant from what is arguably the nation's most elite law school. Second, even if law firm hiring committees did believe the comments, it seems unlikely that very many of them would reject the student's application for that reason. Most big law firms care very little about associates' personal lives outside the office, so long as those associates are racking up the billable hours. Even if one or two firms were deterred from making offers to this student by the internet comments, it is highly unlikely that all sixteen (or even a large percentage of them) were.
This is not to deny the fact that anonymous comments on the internet may cause great offense and hurt feelings, including in this case. But I doubt they play as big a role in the job market as some have suggested.