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How to Become a Lawyer With a Criminal Background

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The process of becoming an attorney is a long one that constitutes, among other things, paperwork about yourself and your background. While aspiring lawyers may feel precluded from becoming a lawyer because of a criminal background, this is not necessarily the case. If you are interested in becoming a lawyer, but you have a criminal record, you can fulfill your dream by being completely honest and fully disclosing your background and criminal history.

Obtain a copy of your criminal record. Contact the police department for any locality in which you have been arrested and request a copy of your criminal record. This information is crucial in the application process for both law school and the bar exam.

Apply to law school. Just because you have a criminal record, does not necessarily preclude you from becoming a lawyer, especially if the charges were relatively minor such as a simple assault. Law school applications will ask you about your criminal history. It is vital that you answer the application questions honestly and do not omit any information. Most law school applications will provide you with an opportunity to explain the charges that were filed against you. You should take the opportunity to explain the circumstances surrounding your arrest. Your answer should also give the admissions committee the impression that the incident was an immature mistake that will not be repeated in the future. The admissions committee has the sole discretion to determine whether your criminal history will preclude you from gaining admission to law school.

Complete the bar exam application. You cannot take the exam for the jurisdiction in which you want to practice without completing the application, which includes questions about your character and fitness to be a lawyer. Fill out the criminal background section of the application honestly and completely. The Board or Bar Examiners conduct an investigation on each applicant who applies to sit for the bar. Failure to complete the application or an attempt to omit your criminal history reflects negatively upon your character and fitness to be a lawyer and will prevent you from taking the bar exam if the Board of Law Examiners in your state discovers that you have been untruthful. You will receive a determination by the Board of Law Examiners in your state as to whether you are eligible to sit for the bar in your chosen state.

Request a hearing before the Board of Law Examiners in your state if you have been found ineligible to sit for the bar exam. At the hearing you should provide compelling reasons why the Board should change its mind regarding their eligibility determination. These reasons should, if possible, be reinforced by the use of character witnesses who will attest to the fact that the applicant is truthful, has integrity and respect for the profession.


Krystal Wascher has been writing online content since 2008. She received her Bachelor of Arts in political science and philosophy from Thiel College and a Juris Doctor from Duquesne University School of Law. She was admitted to the Pennsylvania Bar in 2009.

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