Past Legal Problems

Full disclosure of prior legal problems

One of the more personally difficult decisions that law school applicants must make concerns disclosure of legal problems such as arrests or convictions. Full disclosure is the best choice.

  • Admission to law school. Some law schools ask for disclosure of arrests and convictions. Admissions committees are familiar with applicants with a legal mark on their records. Provide the information and let them decide how to use it in the admissions decision. Committees pay attention to the seriousness of the offense and whether there is a pattern of questionable behavior (e.g., a series of alcohol offenses). Other charges attest more directly to the applicant’s character; plagiarism or fraud affect an applicant’s veracity. Most law schools have a privacy policy that prohibits disclosure of information on application forms. So it is important that an applicant not lie, including lying by omission to distort the record. An arrest or conviction does not preclude admission or joining the bar.
  • Admission to the bar. Some state bar associations require applicants to disclose arrests and convictions. If there is a discrepancy between what the law school reports to the bar, and the bar disclosure, the major issue then becomes the veracity of the applicant, not the minor offense. This can delay admission to the bar, or you may be denied admission to the bar for failure to disclose information.
  • Convictions are less important for law school admission than admission to the practice of law. The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, In re Dortch, 199 W.Va.571 (1996) held that a man who served 15 years in prison for second degree murder, attempted armed robbery, and conspiracy, was released and graduated from law school, could be denied admission to the practice of law despite the fact that a 3/5 vote of Board of Bar Examiners recommended admission. See also In re Mcmillian, 578 S.E. 2d 339 (2000).