This question is often on so many more peoples mind than you would expect. Even the most straight edge person applying for law school has a past speeding ticket that at some point they are worried about. At my 1L law school orientation people were worried about anything from a felony charge to a student crying because she got a fifteen and over when she was sixteen.
The simplest answer is that nobody, even those schmucks at the Bar has a perfect “squeaky clean” record. Things college students get busted for every day like alcohol possession, marijuana possession, and other minor things are extremely common. Although informing potential schools about incidents you have on your record is no laughing matter, but the vast majority of incidents are not worth losing sleep over.
Why are Criminal Records So Serious for Law School?
“Good moral character” is a requirement to sit for the Bar in any state. Law school applications require that you certify that your criminal history is true. The applications will usually also warn you that falsely stating your criminal record may result in suspension or expulsion.
Honesty is the best policy
Whether it’s a speeding ticket or a DUI honesty is the best policy.
“What, Steve your telling me that law schools care about speeding tickets?”
Well, not really but on the other hand the “inquisitor in chief” at my law school scared the snot out of everyone during orientation when she told students that they must inform the school of any infractions they have received from the police.
Some people will tell you that you only need to state a crime if you were actually convicted. This is NOT TRUE. Schools vary in how they ask about criminal records. Mine never asked if I was CONVICTED, my school asked if I had been ARRESTED. This may seem unfair if you were arrested for a crime and it was later dismissed, but law schools always have a box underneath so you can give a further explanation.
Remember to read exactly what the school is asking you. Schools do not ask the same exact questions across the board. Some will ask about civil lawsuits against you or even bankruptcies, but all of these questions are getting at your “character and fitness”.
Schools may have special instructions for arrests/convictions concerning drug use even if its something extremely minor such as small possession of marijuana.
When applying to law schools or jobs the best and most obvious thing to do is be completely honest and err on the side of caution. Why? Because even if its something more serious like a felony law schools are more likely to accept you if you are honest. If you lie about a criminal record your dead in the water. Furthermore, lets say you actually get away with it and the school fails to do a basic background check. I promise you when it comes time to take the Bar they will not skip over your criminal record.
Your Not an Attorney, Don’t Pass Yourself Off as One in Your Application
What I mean by this is that so many people have a story for why their conviction was not their fault. You do to? That’s fine, but I promise an admissions officer reading your application is not going to be thrilled with you explaining it was not your fault. It does not matter who’s fault it was for the purposes of a law school application. Admissions officers are much happier to see a potential student take ownership for their mistakes and grow from them.
Law schools will want to know the circumstances surrounding the incident, limit your explanation to the facts and how the case turned out.
If Your Uncertain
If your uncertain about your status, maybe you got into some trouble many years ago and your not quite certain what the status of that old charge is you should request your criminal record from the state where you were arrested.
What About Serious Crimes?
You have a serious misdemeanor/felony charge or even a conviction on your record? If your serious about becoming an attorney you likely still have an avenue however it will almost certainly be substantially more difficult.
Here’s some famous examples of people convicted of serious felonies becoming attorneys.
There are unfortunately many stories of convicted felons graduating from law school that would otherwise be a shoe-in for admission into the Bar but for their felony record. My advice is to speak with some law school counselors about your situation and your chances of being admitted to the bar when you graduate.
The States are all Over the Place With Convicted Felons
There is no uniform rule for convicted felons being admitted to the bar. Three states in the Union today, Texas, Kansas and Mississippi have a near total ban on felons becoming lawyers. However other states such as Georgia, Florida and Alabama have additional hoops that a convicted felon must jump through to be admitted to the Bar. Other states such as Connecticut and Indiana have a rebuttable presumption that a convicted felon lacks good moral character.
The point is if you are a convicted felon you should think about where you would want to practice. After that you should look up that state’s rules on convicted felons being admitted to the bar to determine your likelihood of ever being admitted.