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Q: Looking into becoming an attorney ( Answered,   3 Comments )
Subject: Looking into becoming an attorney
Category: Reference, Education and News > Job and Careers
Asked by: crazyref-ga
List Price: $100.00
Posted: 28 Oct 2005 16:45 PDT
Expires: 27 Nov 2005 15:45 PST
Question ID: 586223
Is there any state, in which, you can practice law (or be an
attorney)--if you have a criminal record. I have no felonies only
misdeamenors that are 7 years old. My record for the last seven years
is clean, no convictions but, I was arrested last year--the chrages
were dismissed. I have 8 misdeamenor convictions on my record so,
expungement is out of the question.

I know Massachussets, Oregon, and the District of Columbia only allow
criminal checks for 5-7 years back (for misdeamenors) but, does that
mean I may practice law in those states/district--assuming I complete
law school and pass the state bar exam in one of those states?

Request for Question Clarification by pafalafa-ga on 28 Oct 2005 17:07 PDT
My understanding of things is that a criminal record is generally NOT
an insurmountable barrier to becoming a lawyer.

It can make things more difficult, and law school applications (or
other paperwork) will probably ask about any police record.  Still,
these don't prevent someone from going forward with a legal career.

As one site in Illinois puts it:
One important thing to remember is that if you are convicted of a
crime, you will have to disclose that fact on your law school and bar
applications. Many people convicted of crimes have gone on to become
lawyers. Still, a criminal record will complicate the process and
probably make it more difficult to get the job you want...

So, Illinois, at least, is one state where a legal career is possible
even with a criminal record.

Let us know a bit more about what you want, and perhaps you can assist
you with some well-targeted information.


Subject: Re: Looking into becoming an attorney
Answered By: pafalafa-ga on 29 Oct 2005 08:53 PDT

I've had some time to look into your question in more detail, and can
offer you some good news.

I have not come across any state where a history of a criminal record
would automatically prevent a person from becoming an attorney in that
state.  A few states do impose substantial obstacles to admission to
the bar for anyone convicted of a felony, but even in these states,
admission is generally possible after a fixed waiting period.

For the most part, however, state bar review processes approve (or
reject) candidates based on an overall assessment of the candidate's
current moral character -- the assessment process is commonly known as
a "character and fitness review".

In a typical character and fitness review, the existence of a criminal
record is certainly a factor that the review committee will take into

However, they will also consider mitigating factors such as:

--the seriousness of the crime

--the age of the candidate at the time the crimes occured

--the length of time that has passed without any new incidents

--evidence in the candidate's recent history of being an upstanding
citizen and making a positive contribution to society

--the openness and candor of the candidate in making known his or her
criminal record

and so on.

In other words, they are weighing the candidate's moral character as
it currently stands...not as it might have been a decade or more in
the past.

The existence of a criminal record is certainly a factor that would
carry considerable weight in their considerations, but it is not, in
itself, a factor that automatically dooms a candidate's chances to
practice law in the state.

By the way, there is not, in general, any sort of 'statute of
limitations' on making known to the review committee the presence of a
criminal record.

The fact that a conviction occured seven years ago, or ten years ago,
or whenever, does NOT mean that you're off the hook in making this
information known.  Furthermore, an attempt to hide the existence of
past convictions would -- if discovered -- certainly loom as a very
large negative factor in a candidate's overall character and fitness

With that as background, here are some actual guidelines on the
process from a number of state bar organizations:

The process in Michigan is nicely reviewed in two articles, below,
which present an unusual level of detail, such as the fact that 3% or
candidates to the bar are deemed to have serious enough character
issues as to require an in-depth review of their records:
State Bar of Michigan

The Character and Fitness Process

...All individuals who seek to become members of the State Bar of
Michigan by examination, and some who wish to be admitted on motion,
must file with the State Bar an Affidavit of Personal History. In
filling out the affidavit, the applicant is required to disclose a
detailed history of all relevant life events, including criminal
history, litigation history, financial history, and general fitness.
The applicant is also required to sign the affidavit under oath and,
importantly, advise the Bar of any changes in the accuracy of the
affidavit up until the date of admission. A fingerprint card (for
checking criminal history) and the applicable investigation fees must
accompany the affidavit. During the application process, the applicant
must also provide copies of driving records, criminal clearances, law
school character and fitness certification, and letters of

...Each year, the Standing Committee holds between 30 and 40
evidentiary hearings (about three percent of the yearly applicants) to
consider serious character and fitness issues that are discovered
during the investigation. The hearing is trial-like: the Standing
Committee acts as the fact-finding body, evidence is presented, sworn
testimony is offered, a court reporter records testimony, and the
applicant has a right to retain counsel. A volunteer lawyer (usually
an associate member of the committee) is assigned the task of
representing the interests of the State Bar at the hearing. The
applicant has the burden of proof to show by clear and convincing
evidence that he or she currently possesses the requisite character
and fitness to practice law in this state. The State Bar does not
approve or reject any applicant, but after investigation and hearing
prepares a report and recommendation that is forwarded to the Board of
Law Examiners for its consideration.

...What conduct triggers a character and fitness investigation? The
Standing Committee on Character and Fitness has developed standards
for conduct that lead to detailed investigation. Conduct meriting
investigation includes:

? unlawful conduct (including criminal offenses)

? academic misconduct

? making false statements, including omissions

? misconduct in employment

? acts involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation

? abuse of legal process

? neglect of financial responsibilities

? neglect of professional obligations

? violation of an order of a court

. evidence of mental or emotional instability

? evidence of drug or alcohol dependency

? denial of admission to the bar in another jurisdiction on character
and fitness grounds

? activities that constitute practicing law without a license

? disciplinary actions by a lawyer (or other professional) disciplinary agency

[TAKE NOTE OF THIS SENTENCE]...There is no conduct that
??automatically?? disqualifies an applicant from obtaining character
and fitness certification.

Here's a bit more insight from the Michigan process:
State Bar of Michigan
Unraveling the Mystery of the Character & Fitness Process 

...No single action or incident will per se result in an applicant
being denied admission to practice in Michigan. Every applicant is
considered individually, based upon the applicant?s personal history
and record.

...Throughout the entire character and fitness process, the applicant
bears the burden of proof (by clear and convincing evidence) of
showing that she or he currently possesses the requisite character and
fitness to practice law.5 During the interview, which is informal, but
does afford the applicant the right to be represented by counsel if
the applicant chooses, the applicant is asked to explain his or her
conduct surrounding each of the issues, and the panel members ask
questions as well. The interview panel evaluates the applicant?s
responses and compares them to the information that was in the
applicant?s file. The panel also takes into account the applicant?s
demeanor, evidence of rehabilitation, remorse, and whether the
applicant demonstrates an understanding of why the issues that brought
the applicant before the committee are of concern to the Bar.


Here are some similar, and fairly typical, materials from another
state...this time, Arizona:

...Relevant Conduct.  The revelation or discovery of any of the
following should be treated as cause for further detailed
investigation by the Committee on Character and Fitness prior to its
determination whether the applicant possesses the traits and
characteristics evidencing the requisite character and fitness to
practice law:

A.  Unlawful conduct

B.   Academic misconduct

C.   Making a false statement, including omissions

D.  Misconduct in employment

E.   Acts involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation

F.   Abuse of legal process

G.   Neglect of financial responsibilities

H.  Neglect or disregard of ethical or professional obligations

I.    Violation of an order of court

J.    Evidence of conduct indicating mental or emotional instability
impairing the ability of an applicant to perform the functions of an

K.  Evidence of conduct indicating substance abuse impairing the
ability of an applicant to perform the functions of an attorney

L.   Denial of admission to the bar in another jurisdiction on
character and fitness grounds

M.  Disciplinary complaints or disciplinary action by an attorney
disciplinary agency or other professional disciplinary agency of any

...Evaluation of Relevant Conduct. The Committee on Character and
Fitness shall determine whether the present character and fitness of
an applicant qualifies the applicant for admission.  In making this
determination, the following factors shall be considered in assigning
weight and significance to an applicant?s prior conduct:

A. The applicant?s age, experience and general level of sophistication
at the time of the conduct

B.   The recency of the conduct

C.   The reliability of the information concerning the conduct

D.  The seriousness of the conduct

E.   Consideration given by the applicant to relevant laws, rules and
responsibilities at the time of the conduct

F.   The factors underlying the conduct

G.   The cumulative effect of the conduct

H.  The evidence of rehabilitation

I.    The applicant?s positive social contributions since the conduct

J.    The applicant?s candor in the admissions process

K.  The materiality of any omissions or misrepresentations by the applicant.

...In all cases in which the Committee determines that there are
serious allegations of the conduct of the applicant that involve:

(i)      commission of a violent crime,

(ii)     fraud, deceit or dishonesty on the part of the applicant that
has resulted in damage to others,

(iii)    neglect of financial responsibilities due to circumstances
within the control of the applicant, or

(iv)        disregard of ethical or professional obligations

            the applicant shall not be recommended for admission,
unless, at a minimum, an informal hearing is held, and, following the
informal hearing, three or more Committee members who have attended
the informal hearing or who have read the entire record of the
informal hearing, or a majority of  those members who have attended
the informal hearing or who have read the entire record of the
informal hearing, whichever is greater, recommend admission of the
applicant.  In the event that this requirement is not met, a formal
hearing shall be held.  A majority of the Committee members shall
attend the formal hearing to consider whether or not to recommend the
applicant for admission.


Ohio has adoptec special procedures for anyone with a felony conviction:


...No one may take the Ohio bar examination without first receiving character
and fitness approval.

Weight and Significance Given to Prior Conduct

The review of an applicant focuses on the applicant?s present
character, fitness, and moral
qualifications. The following factors are considered in assigning
weight and significance to an
applicant?s prior conduct:

1) age of the applicant at the time of the conduct;
2) recency of the conduct;
3) reliability of the information concerning the conduct;
4) seriousness of the conduct;
5) factors underlying the conduct;
6) cumulative effect of the conduct;
7) evidence of rehabilitation;
8) positive social contributions of the applicant since the conduct;
9) candor of the applicant in the admissions process; and
10) materiality of any omissions or misrepresentations.

Special Provisions for Applicants with Felony Records

There is no per se bar to admission for applicants with felony
records. However, an applicant
who has a felony record must prove full and complete rehabilitation
and satisfy special temporal
and substantive conditions. The applicant is also subject to
additional scrutiny, including a
mandatory review by the Board, even if a local Admissions Committee
has recommended an
unqualified approval of the applicant. Applicants who have been
convicted of the most serious
kinds of felonies?aggravated murder, murder, attempted murder, or
rape?must undergo yet
another review by, and receive approval from, the Supreme Court itself.


[Texas imposes a five year waiting period after competion of a felony
sentence before one can apply to the bar]
Good Moral Character and Fitness Requirement

...An individual guilty of a felony under this rule is conclusively
deemed not to have present good moral character and fitness and shall
not be permitted to file a Declaration of Intention to Study Law or an
Application for a period of five years after the completion of the
sentence and/or period of probation.


In Oregon, the State Supreme Court ruled a few years ago on the case
of an applicant who had been denied access to the Bar on the grounds
of his Character and Fitness Review, and a history of criminal

In the Matter of the Application for Admission
to the Bar of the State of Oregon

...The issue in this contested lawyer admission proceeding is whether
applicant has proved by clear and convincing evidence that he
presently possesses the good moral character necessary for admission
to the Oregon State Bar (Bar). The Board of Bar Examiners (Board)
recommends that this court deny admission at this time, but grant
applicant leave to reapply for admission in one year. Applicant has
petitioned this court to admit him despite the Board's recommendation.
This court reviews de novo. ORS 9.536(3); ORS 9.539; BR 10.6. For the
reasons that follow, we conclude that applicant should not be admitted
to the practice of law in Oregon at this time.

...The central concern in this proceeding is applicant's history of
drug and alcohol dependency and the criminal activity that sometimes
accompanied that dependency. Applicant is 33 years old. He began
drinking alcohol and using marijuana at age 13, was charged with
driving under the influence of intoxicants (DUII) at age 16, and was
convicted of a misdemeanor resulting from drunken behavior at about
age 18. From 1986 to 1988, applicant continued to drink heavily and to
use marijuana, was convicted of another misdemeanor resulting from a
drunken assault in which he seriously injured the victim, and was
fired from a job for smoking marijuana. In the spring of 1988, he
began using LSD and hallucinogenic mushrooms.

...In the fall of 1996, at age 27, applicant began attending law
school at the University of Oregon. In early 1997, he was arrested
while purchasing marijuana, and he subsequently was charged with
manufacture and distribution of a controlled substance. He later
agreed to implicate the seller, and the charges were dismissed.


The American Bar Association has prepared a useful summary chart of
Character and Fitness procedures in different states:

The table shows that only a few state actually have provisions, like
that in Texas, that prohibit a person with a felony conviction from
applying to the bar (for at least a certain period of time).  In most
states, this is not an absolute obstacle to admission.

Several states have also adopted a category of provisional admission
to the bar for candidates with unresolved question of character and
fitness.  "Criminal history' is one of the categories that can give
rise to a provisional admission to the bar in numerous states.

I trust this information fully answers your question.  

However, please don't rate this answer until you have everything you
need.  If you would like any additional information, just post a
Request for Clarification to let me know how I can assist you further,
and I'm at your service.

All the best,


search strategy -- Google searches on:

lawyer bar felony OR misdemeanor

character fitness bar state (criminal OR felony OR misdemeanor) 

character fitness bar state (criminal OR felony OR misdemeanor)
massachusetts OR oregon OR dc
Subject: Re: Looking into becoming an attorney
From: clevegal42-ga on 29 Oct 2005 12:04 PDT
I went to law school in Ohio and one of the first nights of
orientation, there were a few lawyers that came in and talked to us
about the ethics and the character fitness process.  They said that
the key was to be honest about it - they even said that DUIs wouldn't
keep you from being an attorney as long as you were honest about it. 
I had a few minor things that I had to disclose and in the interview
they didn't even mention it.  The main thing is, for any state, to be
honest about it.  Good luck to you.
Subject: Re: Looking into becoming an attorney
From: weisstho-ga on 29 Oct 2005 20:53 PDT
I went to law school in Michigan. There is no question that absolute
honesty is integral to the character and fitness process. I had to
submit copies of all documents related to criminal and civil

I had two misdemeanor convictions, one when I was 17 (malicious
destruction of property) and another at 18 (minor in possession of

I would suspect that the character and fitness people are most
interested in character crimes - honesty is critical in the legal

good luck.
Subject: Re: Looking into becoming an attorney
From: steph53-ga on 31 Oct 2005 15:51 PST
most lawyers ARE crooks ;-)

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