Can I Go to Law School if I Have a Criminal Record?
Tips for applying to law school with a criminal record:
- Gather all relevant facts and documentation from courts, police departments, and your university (if disciplinary action at your college was involved);
- Review law school character and fitness questions on applications to determine whether your incidents must be reported.
- 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!
Ann Levine is the author of the best selling law school admission guide book: The Law School Admission Game and made admissions decisions at two ABA-approved law schools. In 2004 she founded Law School Expert and has helped thousands of applicants navigate the tough process to get into law school.
Get a free consultation with Ann on your own law school admissions journey today.