Law school applications require you to disclose illegal activity and, in some cases, both formal and informal misconduct in which you’ve been involved.
What Law Schools Ask
Law schools vary extensively with regard to the type of information they want to know about applicants. Some law schools will ask only for information aside from minor traffic violations, while other schools will ask for each and every ticket, citation, informal misconduct action, and so on that you have received. It's important that you read the question carefully and use your best judgment when determining what you need to disclose in order to honestly answer the question.
Why You Must Disclose
The request for disclosure is partially driven by the fact that the Board of Admissions to the Bar will require all candidates applying to sit for the bar exam to complete an extremely detailed Character and Fitness questionnaire disclosing each and every ticket, citation, criminal charge, and so on. It's also because law schools want to see that their candidates (and alums) are citizens who respect the law and conduct themselves in an ethical and judicious manner. For this reason, what you do now can very well come back to haunt you later!
To provide clarity, the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) has created guidelines governing misconduct during the admission process. It's highly recommended that every applicant read what the LSAC has to say on the matter.
Our Policies on Disclosure
Pre-Law Advising Services cannot offer interpretations of law school application questions, nor will we make determinations of what should be disclosed. It is the responsibility of the applicant to investigate his or her own history and provide accurate information to law schools.
However, we do offer this general advice: It's very important that you honestly and completely disclose the information that these schools seek. We also suggest that you:
- Read each question on the application carefully.
- Research any tickets, citations, or misconduct situations in which you have been involved. Call the Circuit Clerk for the county in which you received traffic tickets (or check online records) to determine the correct disposition of your case.
- Use your best judgment to determine whether the question on the application encompasses your situation.
- Contact the school for clarification if you don't understand what the question is askin or if you are uncertain if your situation applies. They wrote the question, so they are in the best position to advise you about it.
- Disclose when you're in doubt. The Board of Admissions to the Bar can examine your law school application, and they have the right to investigate any discrepancies between your law school application and your Character and Fitness application until you resolve them to their satisfaction before allowing you to sit for the bar exam in their state. You don't want to be in a situation in which you must disclose to the Board of Admissions to the Bar something that you did not disclose on your law school application.
Why must I have to disclose my information so that a law school can hold it against me?
You have chosen to enter a field in which professionals are held to high ethical standards. Lawyers are expected to respect and uphold the law. In addition, you'll have to disclose your information on your application to the Board of Admissions to the Bar later anyway. It is much, much better to disclose any misconduct now rather than wait until you are applying to sit for the bar exam.
My case was a juvenile case OR My case was expunged. Do I still have to disclose?
Generally, yes. Read the application question carefully. Use your best judgment. When in doubt, disclose. (Law schools vary on how far back they want to know about, but do know that the Board of Admissions to the Bar will have access to all records, including juvenile and expungements. It is a common misconception that expunged records cannot be found by certain parties.)
I only paid a fine, I didn't actually plead guilty. Do I still have to disclose?
In most instances, paying the fine was part of pleading guilty...the fine is part of the disposition. Again, read the application question carefully and use your best judgment. Look up the records from the county in which you were charged. When in doubt, you should disclose all the details you know.
What would you do? Do you think I should disclose?
Law school applications are clear: The applicant is the only person who can determine what's accurate about his/her history. You'll note that many law school applications even say that it is the applicant's responsibility to disclose, regardless of being advised otherwise by a lawyer or someone else.