By: Phillip Bogdanovich
I haven’t written in a while because I have been drinking from the firehose that is being a part of yet another startup—I’m now running operations for an Austin-based legal services company called Legal Tech Ventures. Not coincidently, my new position has led me to think about life from a legal perspective, and lately that has meant thinking about college and the shenanigans that happen there.
The late teens to early 20s represent a time when most of us learn through personal and second-hand experience (and often through a negative feedback loop) what it means to be a productive, responsible adult. A sense of invincibility, newfound freedom, and serious misunderstanding of consequences can lead to decisions that are questionable at best. Unfortunately, if the runaway freight train of post-adolescent self-discovery crashes too hard into the halls of higher education, it can lead to a professional disaster.
There are stereotypes and stigma associated with fraternity (frat) parties for good reason. Some of the craziest, most irresponsible behavior I have ever seen in my life occurred at frat parties. It was awesome—at least for 25-year-old me. During these gatherings where I reveled in my newfound excess and freedom, I was surrounded by sweaty drunk people who saw the world through the same lens I did. Looking back, we were associating reckless abandon with freedom. My liver hurts just thinking about it.
An overwhelming majority of us wander through our undergrad careers blissfully unaware (or willfully ignorant) of the consequences of our actions. We party our asses off, attend a significant number of classes hung over, wake up in places we’d swear we’d never seen before, and drive intoxicated beyond the legal limit. We don’t even consider the possibility that our behavior could have problematic outcomes. This is the bubble and it’s a pleasant place to live. Unfortunately, the bubble is fantasyland.
A Train Wreck.
When the bubble bursts and consequences start catching up to you, it’s an awful and often panic-inducing experience. Your world crashes down and you may question every decision you’ve ever made. You may end up in a jail cell, praying—even if you’re not religious—that God will get you the hell out of the situation you’ve put yourself in. You might make a promise like, “If you help me out of this I’ll never drink/do drugs/strip down naked and run through the mall/fill my neighbor’s car with approximately 26 fire extinguishers’ worth of fire retardant again.”
If you do go to jail, you’ll probably be let out after a few hours or a day feeling like you have been granted a new lease on life. You will call your parents to thank them for bail and plead with them not to visit campus and drag your ass home. You will lie to your friends, telling them a story way cooler than the real story (there are exceptions to this)—maybe throwing in explosions or a car chase. You will then call an attorney you saw on a billboard and pay him or her approximately three years’ college tuition to get you out of the mess you created.
You go back on campus and go about your routine and partying with your friends. The “event” becomes legendary and peers do keg stands in your honor. You graduate and enough time passes that your parents stop bringing up your “attack on sensibility” every time they have the opportunity. You become a real adult, out in the workforce. You’re ready to take on the world and deserve a job commensurate with the quality of your education and your general awesomeness. The irresponsible period of your life is over.
But It’s Not Over.
Your future employer at your dream job runs a background check as a “check in the box.” They know you’re a stellar candidate; they just need to go through the motions. Then it happens. You get the call you’ve been waiting for—except rather than making a job offer, the hiring manager awkwardly tells you that your criminal history precludes you from being hired. The bubble that made college so fun wasn’t real, and you’re paying for a mistake that’s several years old. The mistake that used to make you a legend now makes you unemployable. Fuck.
Don’t Be That Guy. Or Girl.
If you are the legendary type, there’s hope in the form of legal aid. You may be able to expunge or seal your record, depending on your charge(s) or conviction(s). Record expungements and similar services aren’t for career criminals or the dregs of society. They’re for productive people who made questionable decisions. I’ve heard innumerable stories over the last few months of people who made mistakes early in life and have been paying for them ever since. One of our clients was convicted of a felony in the 70s (when EVERYONE was high) for having an ounce of marijuana on his person. This felony followed this guy for more than 40 years—even though it was the only item on his record. His life was otherwise productive and he contributed to society. Imagine how much more he could have contributed without a felony. Fortunately, he contacted us and we were able to expunge his record. No one pays $50K+ to go to school with the plan of being in debt not being able to find a job because of a criminal record. Most of us make bad decisions in college, but only an unlucky few wind up compromising our employability with those decisions. Fortunately, these youthful indiscretions don’t have to follow us for our whole lives. You earned a degree—make sure you can leverage it to its potential.