Law School Admissions: Disclosure

If you’ve started your law school applications already, you may have noticed that they ask you to tell them about prior run-ins you may have had with the law. The exact language varies from school to school—some ask about crimes with which you were charged, others about anything you were convicted of. Many students wonder what to do about their personal disclosures, as they’re afraid that the particular skeletons in their closets will keep them out of law school. The rule to follow, though, is simple: if in doubt, disclose it.
There are a few good reasons for this. First and foremost, for the average law student, those past peccadilloes won’t be enough to make the difference between admission and rejection (more on this later).  But an even better reason is that the worst case scenario if you hide something is basically the complete decimation of your future. One of the main reasons that schools require these disclosures is that they’re in the business of turning students into lawyers. And lawyers, in the U.S. at least, must be admitted to a state bar. State bars require character and fitness certifications, and they’re very thorough; while your character is being evaluated, any crimes that you’ve committed, been charged with, were accused of, etc., are probably going to come to light.
If the bar finds that you’ve willfully concealed anything, it can be grounds for denying your application, which means that your pricy legal education may very well not lead to a career as an attorney. So, basically, when schools ask for disclosures, one of the things they’re evaluating is whether your prior actions were bad enough to keep you from being admitted to the bar. If they were, the utility of a legal education becomes questionable, and the school may be doing you a favor by not encouraging you to spend your money on a diploma that you might not be able to use.
It’s worth keeping in mind that most of the things that students worry about won’t necessarily keep them out of law school. I personally know two people who were very anxious that their disclosures would count against them. One had been charged with possession of marijuana in college, and the other received a citation for drinking alcohol as a minor. Both of them were accepted to good law schools, even after the panic-inducing disclosures. Someone in my class in law school had been cited for entering a restricted livestock-only area at a county fair; someone else had been wrongfully convicted of murder and later exonerated. The range of disclosures is broad, and it’s unlikely that your misdeeds are anything that the admissions committee hasn’t already seen.
You may have some trouble obtaining information necessary for your disclosures. Good starting points, if you know that you have a charge or conviction to disclose, but don’t know the specific details, are your local courthouse and/or the relevant police department. They can help point you in the right direction, and again, chances are that they’ve dealt with similar requests before, so don’t be afraid to approach them with yours.
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