Can I Go to Law School if I Have a Criminal Record?

Tips for applying to law school with a criminal record:

  1. Gather all relevant facts and documentation from courts, police departments, and your university (if disciplinary action at your college was involved);
  2. Review law school character and fitness questions on applications to determine whether your incidents must be reported.
  3. If your arrests and/or convictions or other discipline must be reported, draft a candid, factual explanation and make sure to demonstrate that this incident or pattern of incidents no longer defines you or is indicative of your current behavior.

If you’re thinking about applying to law school, and you have a criminal record, it’s important to go into the process with your eyes open. First, you’ll need to report almost all incidents in your law school applications as part of the character and fitness disclosure. The questions on each application vary slightly, but in most cases you’ll have to report all criminal incidents (sometimes arrests even when there was no conviction) and sometimes even if the charges were expunged or sealed. You should obtain all documentation related to these events, and be prepared to be candid in the applications. That, above all else, is what the law schools are screening for. In order to practice law, you will need to complete a background check with the state bar examiners where you intend to practice. They will uncover if there is something you failed to report in your law school applications, and if you were not candid in your law school applications, you could be prevented from practicing law.

I often field questions from people who are wondering whether they can get into law school with a criminal record combined with a low LSAT and/or low GPA.

“I’m wondering if it’s possible (or what the likelihood is) of getting into law school with a 2.5 GPA, 138 on the LSAT twice, and a DUI on my record. Is there anything I can do at this point to get into a law school? Going back to undergrad and increasing my GPA? Taking the LSAT over? Anything?” – J.

The answer for J. is that there is an incredibly small likelihood of his acceptance to an ABA law school right now. Even if we give him the benefit of the doubt about diversity, being president of everything at school, having a few years of significant work experience, and a fairly reputable undergraduate college (a combination of which is highly unlikely), law schools have no incentive to take a risk on him. He brings nothing of value to a school, from a law school’s perspective. Any law school would have to sacrifice its numbers to admit him and probably sacrifice its first time bar passage rate and employment statistics as well.

Breaking Down The Specifics

Going back to undergrad doesn’t work. It doesn’t change your LSAC computed GPA. If J. could get himself into a graduate school program of repute and do very well (not just a 3.0, but in the neighborhood of a 3.7 GPA) and get some solid academic letters and significantly increase his LSAT score, then I think he might have a better chance of being admitted to law school. This would show maturity and seriousness of purpose.

One DUI is problematic, but if J. can show he’s changed and grown and learned from the experience, this alone probably won’t keep him out of law school. J. needs to put some real and metaphorical distance between himself and the DUI incident for law schools to be willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Read The Comments!

I anticipate some questions and comments on this one, so fire away. And happy Friday!

611 thoughts on “Can I Go to Law School if I Have a Criminal Record?

  1. Curious on said:

    Hello Anne,

    I spent a night in county jail for alleged domestic battery in which the charges were dropped. Will I be automatically be rejected for consideration fof acceptance to Law School because of this?

    Thank You

  2. Hello
    I’ve been racking my brain and stressing to the point that I am losing weight. I graduated from school in 2008 the semester of my graduation my school had a shooting that resulted in the deaths of 5 people, that family problems and fear let me to have a terrible semester. My gpa is a 2.4 with a B.S in economics. I am scheduled to take the LSAT this Saturday. I have been scoring between 150 and 153 on my diagnostics. I am applying at the deadline which most schools deadlines are March 1st or 15th. I am 28 with 3 years of managerial experience and I am also African American. My question is what are my chances of getting in a law school and should I right an addendum and what points should I focus on with the addendum. I want to and almost need to be in law school by fall. Please help me out

    • Raul,
      First, you really need to calm down because I am worried that your anxiety will hinder your performance on the LSAT. I don’t know where you are planning to apply and what your materials say about you but you should explain the GPA in an addendum. Good luck this weekend.

  3. also I have my letters of rec and personal statment ready. A little bit more about myself I am orginally from Africa and I have also been working with a couple of Doctors and Lawyers back home are focused on human rights and equality in Western Africa.

  4. I am in the Chicagoland area and would like to stay in this area. I have about 20 schools on my list. But my top 5 would have to be Kent Law (itttech) John Marshal (Chicago)l, Depaul, Loyola, Georgia State. I am also going to apply to University of Indiana as well as University of Illinois but I dont think my GPA would allow me entry to those schools. My last resort I hope is Northern Illinois University. And what should I say or focus on on my addendum. I dont want to come across as making excuses for my GPA

  5. Hello guys,

    I recently graduated at Temple University with low GPA of 2.58 with a degree of Asian Studies. My question is what is the minimum range combine with 2.58 GPA + LSAT score? Thanks!

  6. First let me say, this website it great! I wish I had found it earlier in my search for a law school. I’m writing because I would like to know what rank of law school I should REALLY consider applying to.

    THE GOOD: I have a 3.6 GPA, with a 152 on the LSAT. I’m a 27 year old non-traditional student who has worked full-time for 10 years in hospitality as a manager, chef, bartender, etc… I did a study abroad last summer and I have been the vice president of my HOA for 2 years.

    THE BAD: I was convicted of a DWAI a year ago. I have completed all of the requirements of my sentence, with only two months left on my probation, which is disclosed in my addendum.

    I was primarily looking at lower ranking T1’s, some T2’s, and many T3’s. However, I received an invite to apply to University of Wisconsin a few days ago, which is in the top 30?! Their 25th percentile LSAT is way higher than mine? Should I reach higher? Thank you so much for your advice!

    • Hi Chris,
      I can’t give schools advice on the blog but I think you’re probably casting too wide a net in terms of the levels of schools. Have you read The Law School Admission Game? I give a lot of advice there about how to come up with a schools list, how much work experience matters, etc.
      About the bipolar comment, law schools won’t know unless you tell them. This only comes up in an application if it is in connection with some other problem that needs to be explained (poor grades, an arrest, etc.).

  7. By the way, I’m a white male as well, so I don’t have the minority card to play.

    Also, just curious, I read a post earlier about someone being bipolar. How would the bar or a law school even know if you were or were not bipolar? Can they access medical records?

    Thanks again!

  8. Hi Ann,

    I graduated from a top school in Massachusetts with a 2.84 GPA in 2003. I took the LSAT 4 times. December 2002, February 2003, February 2004 and September 2009. All 4 times I scored in the 130’s and the final time I broke 140. I have already started studying to retake the LSAT a 5th time for October 2012 and wanted to know is this wise or should I give up my law school dreams? I was not sure if the schools would see my 3 previous scores before the September 2009 administration and would look down on my application. I would also need an addendum.

    I also have a graduate degree from Georgetown University and am a female URM non-traditional candidate with solid managerial experience at some of Washington, D.C. top nonprofit’s. Any advice would be appreciated. I am looking at mostly Tier 3 and Tier 4 schools as well as part time programs of some schools in the D.C. area.

    • Shida,
      Law schools may see scores up to 5 years old. If you can’t break the 130s after preparing for the LSAT, I do think you need to reconsider your career path, even with a graduate degree, URM status, and work experience.

  9. Hi. I have a question, Ms. Levine, and I hope you can help. I currently have a 2.55 GPA (bad) and a 155 LSAT (average). Recently, however, I went back and got a paralegal certification, where I got a 3.7 GPA (or something close). I know that won’t impact my GPA for LSAC purposes, but I feel it gives me something positive to point out when I write my Statement Letter or my Addendum. Also, I have a DUI conviction, but that was 5 years ago, and I feel I’m far enough away (and have a clean record) so I can explain that I’ve learned from my mistakes and am extremely apologetic (which is true).

    My goal is to attend a part-time program while I work (currently a paralegal) and then transition into the legal field (I’m 28, so living off loans for three years is simply not possible). I’m debating whether to re-take the LSAT in order to boost my chances of maybe getting some scholarship money (I was sick when taking the test and feel I could score much higher, based on practice tests I took to prepare).

    Do you think that is in my best interest to re-take the test in June? The school I’m looking at is around 90th overall, but has strong ties to the city in which I hope to practice. Or should I just apply now? Can I do both, or could that possibly hurt me?

    Thanks for your help!

    • Mark,
      I agree that your DUI from 5 years ago won’t be an issue (although you will, of course, report it), but your paralegal grades won’t be incredibly persuasive. Your work as a paralegal shows you know what you’re getting yourself into, and that’s a good thing. If you think you can do better, you should retake in June and apply early for Fall 2013 admission (meaning, applying in fall 2012) rather than applying late right now. But of course, so long as you have your materials ready to go and they are strong then you could always try now and use next year as a back-up. However, please make sure your materials are strong. I wonder, also, why you haven’t yet applied – what have you been waiting for?

  10. Hi Ann,

    I have an undergraduate GPA of 2.78 and I made 144 on the LSAT. I graduated from undergrad in 2006 and have over four years of experience working in a professional field. I graduated with my MBA in Finance with a GPA of 3.51 last year and now I am looking forward to a rewarding career in law. I am being realistic in applying, so my main goal is to go an ABA approved law school. What are my chances in getting in?

  11. I have also been following this blog and reading on some of the other individual’s commentary.

    I myself graduated from a state school (San Francisco State University). My gpa was around a 3.0 and I’ve taken the LSAT 3 times. Once, I cancelled it, 2nd time i got approximately a 144, and just took it this past weekend (after 2 years). However, in the past 2 years since I finished college, I had been working at Genentech (a biotechnology company). And after my contract expired, i spent time studying and preparing for the LSAT.

    I’ve been told before (not sure if this is an urban legend), but to not be afraid of applying to good ABA law schools that are private. I.e. Harvard, Stanford, Yale. Although my chances of getting in based on gpa and lsat score may be unlikely. People have explained that some of these private institutions receive help from the state government. And some are given guidelines to place students of different ethnicity yearly. I.e. The government tells Stanford to raise the percentage of Latinos by 5% for Fall 2012. I know from experience a few people that have gotten into Ivy league schools that had well below the recommended scores.

    Do you recommend this as well? (I know it’s a long shot)

    • Alex,
      I can’t imagine who would be telling you these things, but even if they were true I know quite a few Latino/a applicants to these top-5 schools who have 4.0s and 169+s on the LSAT. These schools have no incentive to take risks on people who barely have the numbers for bottom-ranked schools.

  12. Ms. Levine,
    Thanks for the reply. I haven’t applied yet because I’ve read the literature about law school and the extreme difficulty of the market. I thought it would be more prudent to get work in the legal field first, try to meet some people and make connections, and go part-time rather than diving right in. I personally know people with $100,000+ debt with a JD who are struggling to find work. Their advice on my going to law school was, shall we say, less than supportive. It caused me to seriously pause and make doubly certain I wanted to take this plunge.

    My plan was to take the LSAT in June and apply for 2013 as early as possible. I understand that my record is not the strongest, so the earlier I apply, the better. I think re-taking the test is my best option. I was consistently scoring in the mid-160s on practice tests, but was sick and distracted on test day. I think I can hit my target score which may help defray the cost of school even just a little. That, combined with working full time, will help me graduate with as little debt as possible. I doubt I would go if I had to pay full sticker price, plus take out loans for living expenses.

  13. Mark, i just wrote a book about this issue – The Law School Decision Game: A Playbook for Prospective Lawyers – and I urge you to read it.

    I agree with your June timeline. Please let me know if I can help in any way with your application process.

  14. I am 37, I started college for the first time in 2009. I will graduate in May with a 3.9 and a 151 on the LSAT. I have interned in Washington and want to get inot a good school. The problem (other than the not to great LSAT) is that in 1998 I recieved a DWI. Is it hopelass?

    • Eli, the DWI does not make it hopeless – it’s more than 10 years old. You have to report it, of course, but it shouldn’t prevent your acceptance – especially since you’ve obviously turned your life around, gone back to school as an adult, etc.

  15. Catherine on said:

    I am 24 and have been out of school for 2 years and am currently working as a retail manager. Due to poor foresight and other factors I graduated with a 2.6 GPA. Unfortunately I was lazy and did not put much effort into my work. Much has changed since then and I regret not doing well and also doing other activities or even internships. Well I can’t change the past but I have a strong ambition to go to law school. What are the steps that I can take to ensure that I have a strong chance of admission? I’d also like to know other things I can do to get more involved. *I liked your response to J’s problem, as far as going to complete a graduate program to show academic improvement– Is that something that I should also consider?

    • Hi Catherine. I think you’re going to have to show this was well-thought out (the decision to go to law school) and isn’t a default decision after floundering a bit. A graduate degree might do that, but I also want you to try studying for the LSAT because if you aren’t able to get a score that would put you in range at the schools you hope to attend, the graduate degree would have been a waste if your sole objective in pursuing it was to try to get into law school.

  16. Joseph Wells on said:

    I am 25 and have taken the lsat five times. My highest score was a 137. My undergraduate GPA is 2.84. I have been considering getting my masters to improve my chances vs. taking the lsat again in June. I have also been through a conditional admittance program that didnt work out. I have spoken with two representatives from law schools that told me the masters degree may not neccessarily be the sure thing I’m looking for to gain acceptance. What is your suggestion?

    • Joseph, I have a feeling you are not hearing the candid advice people are giving you – by saying it may not be a sure thing, they are saying this is not going to help. With 5 LSAT scores in the 130s, AND not making it through a conditional admission program when you had the chance, you have all of the evidence to make a case that you will not succeed in law school. You can still go on and be highly successful in many, many other professions but I think you’ve invested enough time and energy in law school and you need to re-evaluate your abilities and goals to find the right path for you. The good news is that 25 is very young and you have time to discover what career is better suited to you. I hope to hear from you about your future plans.

  17. Hi Ann,

    First thanks for so tirelessly answering all of our questions so forthrightly. Ok so here’s my situation… a 2.2 (horrid) UGPA and a 156 lsat. I took the lsat fairly cold, though I am not sure how much more I could squeeze out of it.

    I have a few mitigating factors and a few softs, I just have zero idea how they might alter my ugpa and lsat in the eyes of the adcomm.

    My softs include an upward trend (graduating in history with ~3.55 degree gpa this May). Poor grades are 12-19 years old. I am 37, married, family. I have extensive international travel, having lived and worked throughout the Pacific and SE Asia. I am also a combat veteran with decorated service in Iraq.

    Do you think these softs may be able to mitigate the 2.2 ugpa to some degree? I know you do not give schools advice but might you be able to tell me what tiers I may be competitive at? I really have no idea where to even begin building my spread.

    Thanks!

    Oh and PS, I know how late in the cycle this is. I am thinking 2013.

    • Ryan,
      You have a lot going for you – all of those softs will work in your favor. Start by looking at schools where the 75th percentile is 155-157. Don’t look at the GPAs – just make the rest of your application so strong that the schools want to overlook (are convinced to overlook!) the overall GPA.

  18. Hey Ann!

    So glad I stumbled upon this blog, it seems very helpful! As everyone knows a compilation of factors goes into an acceptance letter, but I was hoping to get yet another opinion on my chances at a Top 10.

    I am currently a junior at American University in DC. I plan on taking the June LSAT and applying to Georgetown Dual Degree program (JD Intl Law, MA Intl Security) early decision. I will be sending in my application with a 3.87-3.94 GPA, but that will only be from one year of school at AU. I transferred from Loyola University Chicago with a 3.34.

    Additionally, I will have had 3 internships by the time of my application, all focusing on research for international security think tanks. It is also a possibility that I can get some of my own research published at my current internship. Too, I have several on campus leadership and founding positions at a few clubs.

    Will my low Loyola GPA and slightly above average GPA not qualify me whatsoever for a law school such as Georgetown or NYU?

    Thank you for your help!!
    Megan

    • Hi Megan,
      The upward trend helps, as will amazing LORs from faculty members who say what a star you are.
      Great that you’ve had a specific focus and a real reason for going to law school. Now it’s all up to the LSAT!

  19. White male, two years work experience in tech/finance, 180 LSAT, miserable 3.0 GPA (with a strong upward trend).

    Are top, top tier schools, e.g. Stanford, out of the question?

  20. Robert on said:

    3.7 gpa from a top undergrad university. Solid everything. Yet to take the Lsat. But I got a DWI this past weekend. There are hopes if it getting reduced to a lesser charge. But still I am uncertain if I can get into a good law school. Also I would not be surprised if this costs me job offers when I graduate

    • Robert, this won’t cost you job offers. Nor will it preclude acceptance to law schools but it is something you will need to explain, show that you’ve taken responsibility, and that you’ve made changes in judgment/in habits/ etc. as appropriate for your situation. Your application will go through an additional level of scrutiny/review and depending on the circumstances you may want to wait for a disposition before submitting applications.

  21. Hello, Ms. Levine. Thank you very much for this blog. I am sorry to leave you one more message in your sea of messages, but I’ve read through several and haven’t found a comment that matches my story.
    I am a 29-year-old male with the ambition of getting a law degree, but I’m unsure of which course of action to take. I did poorly in my undergrad (2.78) at a mediocre college, but I have gained a lot of work experience teaching over the years in China, Italy, etc.
    I haven’t taken the LSAT yet because I am contemplating going back and applying for a BA/MA program in prelaw and political science at a better university to have a stronger educational background, higher GPA and a better chance of being admitted to a higher-ranking law school.
    Is this the best route, or should I only go that way if I don’t do very well on the LSAT? Will going to get a second BA show that I am more serious and educated, or will it not do anything for my chances? Thank you for your help.

    • Chris, only your first BA counts in your LSAC GPA. I would focus on the LSAT and see how you do rather than invest in a BA or MA degree as a subjective factor. Always control the objective factors (LSAT/GPA) before subjective and see how you do.

  22. Alan Smithee on said:

    Ann, thank you for the valuable information and to the numerous posters contributing to the discussion. Per your suggestion, I have ordered your book.

    My first LSAT attempt was a 146, June 2011. Overconfidence was the main factor as I refused to study for it. I unfortunately had the, “it’ll get done.” attitude from kindergarden until the last six months of college. After years of successful employment and mental maturing, that attitude reared its head again; as is reflected in my initial LSAT score and my undergrad GPA of 2.9. I realized it wasn’t just going to get done this time.

    It is now March, I refused to take the December or February tests 1) I didn’t feel ready; 2) I’m not in a rush; and 3) The only other score I want reported is at least 20 points higher. June 2012 is the date, however, I’m debating a Certificate of Graduate studies in Law and Public Policy to show those receiving my law school application my undergrad scores are not representative of my current abilities. The credits are able to matriculate into a joint degree program (JD/MBA, JD/MA) if obtained from the same institution. My GMAT scores are still valid and went much better than the LSAT. I would like your thoughts on my plan of attack including possible suggestions and or criticism.

    Thanking you for your time, I remain

    Sincerely yours,
    Alan Smithee

    • Hi Alan,
      I’m not sure what school you are talking about so I don’t know how the specific program works and what numbers would make it viable. I also don’t know enough about what you will be doing to prepare for the June LSAT, but it sounds like you have a plan and that is always a good thing.

  23. Faraz R. on said:

    I took the lsat twice, once on Dec and recieved a 149 and the second time on February 11th and recieved a 150. I have a 2.8 UGPA (double major) from Colorado State University. I worked full time during all 4 of my under grad years. I only want to apply to Wyoming’s college of law in laramie. Its a T3 school, do i have any chance at all of getting into this school for the fall semester?

  24. Alan Smithee on said:

    Ann,

    My June LSAT preparation has consisted of a completed Kaplan course and a one hour per day study session, not including practice tests. Average of 13 practice tests is a 163.

    My question about the Certificate is basically regarding return on investment. While attemping to form a question here I realized there are too many “ifs” in my original post for a reliable answer. Simply put: Will my undergrad performance haunt me forever?

    Warm regards,
    Alan Smithee

  25. Jasmine on said:

    Hi Ann,

    I’m a senior undergraduate Applied Mathematics Major/English Minor at UCLA with a 3.13 major. I’m going to be graduating in June. I haven’t taken the LSAT yet, but am interested in going to law school. I was planning on taking the next year or two off to either teach in a low-income neighborhood or teach abroad.

    My question is do I have a chance to get in a great law school, like a Top 10? I know that I have to do really well on the LSAT since I have a low GPA. I don’t really have that much experience in the law field since I just decided that I would like to go this route. Is it possible for me to get into these top law schools? Is there anything I can do after graduation to help my chances of getting into a Top 10 law school in 2 years? Should I get another degree (masters in education maybe) or try to get some work experience? Your advice would be much appreciated!

    Thanks 🙂
    -Jasmine