Girls like you don't become lawyers.
April 28, 2008 8:18 AM   Subscribe

Questions about character and fitness standards for bar admission. Are they going to let me be a lawyer?

I'm about to apply for law school, and I'm scared that I won't be able to pass the character and fitness part of the bar exam. I don't want to take on the student loan debt for a career that I'm not going to be able to have if I'm not going to be able to have it, but I really want to be a lawyer. Am I screwed? Is there something I can do or should be doing to mitigate it now? Should I even bother to try?

Things I'm concerned about (posting anon for plausible deniability):

- My credit is terrible. I have medical bills that are in collections from giving birth uninsured, and some stuff on my credit report that really isn't mine that I need to dispute. I also have some credit card debt that I'm actively paying down.
- I have a criminal history; I got arrested several times at protests when I was younger. I also have a petty shoplifting conviction from about that time.
- I have a large gap in my work history from when I was doing sex work. This was under the table work; I don't know if it would be worse for me to disclose it or to omit it and say that I was caring for young children at the time (which I was). I don't want to lie, but I am well aware of the stigma that sex workers face.
- I've been fired from some of the "real" jobs that I have had for cause, basically for screwing up simple stuff - no dishonesty or anything, but I'm sure it looks bad on paper.
- I have documented ADHD and have struggled with it in various areas of my life; this is in my medical records and my school transcripts, which are all over the place. I have had (and still do sometimes have) trouble following deadlines and being responsible. I got diagnosed as an adult, and I'm getting help and learning how to handle it now, but it's been a long hard road. Do they disqualify people with ADHD from being lawyers for being flaky or crazy?

I don't think I'm a bad person, and I do think I'd be a good lawyer. I've grown up and learned a lot since I made some of those mistakes, and I'm working on my problems. I'm scared that none of that is going to be enough, though, and I don't know what would be or what I could do to prove myself to them.

I've asked people this stuff before, and have recieved responses along the lines of "oh, it'll be fine, just disclose everything and don't sweat it," but I'm not at all sure that's true. Really? I'm afraid that everything about my history screams "not good enough," and the fact that former frat boys with multiple alcohol violations have been able to claim youthful indiscretion and get in does not reassure me; it's not unusual for people like that to be able to get ahead in front of people like me, in my experience.

I know that you all aren't the bar, but I thought I would see if any of the lawyers or smart people here have any thoughts, insight or advice for me.

Thanks for anything you can give, if you can.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (33 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Contact the board of bar examiners in the state where you plan to sit for the bar. They will not give you a definitive answer, but they are absolutely the only people who can even given you a sense of whether you'll be an acceptable candidate.

Anecdotally, the people I know with minor alcohol violations on their records (minors-in-possession, not DUIs) who passed C&F exams had no other blemishes of any kind on their records. My state takes "neglect of financial responsibility" extremely seriously in the admissions process and most states reject applicants with multiple convictions unless they are extremely petty offenses and unless there is a great deal of evidence of rehabilitation. A person who does not have a steady work history, who had been regularly fired and cannot keep her finances in order is unlikely to meet the rigorous rehabilitation standard most boards of bar examiners require.
posted by crush-onastick at 8:38 AM on April 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

I would venture to guess that if your history can be explained away as "youthful indiscretion", then they probably would be OK with it. Hang around a courthouse and you'll see a motley bunch of misfits carrying attache cases. So I wouldn't worry too much.

I think the real issue is- are you NOW capable of maintaining the standards of ethics, responsibility and financial responsibility to be an asset to the bar, and not a liability? Specifically, do you have your ADHD under control?
posted by gjc at 8:48 AM on April 28, 2008

Might depend somewhat on what state you're in. But getting arrested at protests shouldn't hurt. Not sure about petty shoplifting, but as long as you don't have a felony, you're probably OK in a state like California or NY.

In California you'll need to find a couple people who can vouch for your character. I'd think that if you can do this, and you aren't a felon, your chances are pretty good.
posted by mikeand1 at 8:50 AM on April 28, 2008

Personally, I'd hire a law school admissions consultant. I know that the ones that work for Kaplan (my former and future employer) are all currently on admission committees. The couple of LSAT students I had with criminal histories that went with an admission consultant were really pleased with the help that they got. Plus it is only a couple hundred of bucks, which in the world of law school apps is really nothing if it saves you some hassle.
posted by k8t at 8:59 AM on April 28, 2008

BTW, if you take the LSAT with accomodations for your ADHD, the law schools DO NOT see that you took it accomodated. You don't have to put it on your app. Rather, once you get to school (or get admitted), you can speak with the disability office to help you get your accomodations set up.
posted by k8t at 9:00 AM on April 28, 2008

As an example of what you might need to do, here is what my state (NC) says about this stuff:



Every applicant shall have the burden of proving that the applicant possesses the qualifications of character and general fitness requisite for an attorney and counselor-at-law, and is possessed of good moral character and is entitled to the high regard and confidence of the public.

The term "good moral character", includes but is not limited to the qualities of honesty, fairness, candor, trustworthiness, observance of fiduciary and personal responsibility and of the laws of North Carolina and of the United States and a respect for the rights of other persons and things. The term "fitness" includes but is not limited to, the mental or emotional stability of the applicant to practice law in North Carolina.

In satisfying the requirements of good moral character and fitness, applicants should be persons whose record of conduct justifies the trust of clients, adversaries, courts and others with respect to the professional duties owed to them and whose record demonstrates the qualities of honesty, trustworthiness, diligence, responsibility and reliability.

The revelation or discovery of any of the following may be treated as cause for further inquiry before the Board decides whether the applicant possesses the requisite character and fitness to practice law. The foregoing is inclusive of but not limited to:

1. Unlawful conduct.

2. Academic misconduct.

3. Making or procuring any false or misleading statement or omission of relevant information including any false or misleading statement or omission on the application for admission to a college or university, a law school, or to the North Carolina Bar or any amendment or in any testimony or any sworn statement submitted to the Board.

4. Misconduct in employment.

5. Acts involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.

6. Abuse of legal process.

7. Neglect of financial responsibilities.

8. Neglect of professional obligations.

9. Violation of an order of a Court, including failure to pay child support.

10. Military Misconduct. A discharge other than honorable.

11. Evidence of mental or emotional instability.

12. Evidence of drug or alcohol misuse, abuse or dependency.

13. Denial of admission to the Bar in any other jurisdiction on character and fitness grounds.

14. Disciplinary action by a lawyer, disciplinary agency, or other professional disciplinary agency of any jurisdiction.

15. Any other conduct which reflects adversely upon the character or fitness of the applicant.

The Board has developed policies and procedures from many of the above-cited examples of questionable conduct. These include but are not limited to:

A. Unlawful conduct:

The Board may inquire into arrests even if no conviction resulted. There are many reasons why arrests do not result in convictions, and many of them have no bearing on guilt or innocence. The Board is authorized to inquire into all areas of possibly relevant applicant misconduct. The applicant is required to report all incidents, and to provide evidence of rehabilitation, if relevant, and evidence of current good character. The occurrence of an acquittal or dismissal is relevant, but is not dispositive of the issue. This is not to suggest that the Board will assume that any arrest was due to guilty conduct on the part of an applicant. The applicant’s obligation is to be completely forthright regarding all matters about which the Board inquires.

If, at the time of the application, criminal charges are pending against the applicant, the Board will table the application until these charges are resolved. If a conviction results in probation, restitution or some other sentence, the Board will not consider the application until the sentence has been served and probation completed. The Board will then proceed to investigate the facts and circumstances that led to the criminal charges.

B. Making a false statement:

Dishonesty in dealings with employers, schools (including applications for admission) and authorities, including the Board of Law Examiners, is grounds for denial of bar applications. Giving false information on the application or failing to be entirely forthcoming and completely candid in the application process is a serious error which will have negative consequences for an applicant. With respect to non-disclosure on the law school application the Board will require at a minimum evidence that the applicant has made full disclosure of the erroneous or omitted information to the law school administration together with the action if any taken by the law school.

C. Neglect of financial responsibilities:

The Board recognizes that mishandling of client funds is a frequent and serious cause for professional discipline. While admission to the bar does not require a perfect credit record, the Board is interested in whether applicants have dealt honestly and responsibly with their creditors, and whether they are doing so at the time of application. Responsible dealings generally include but are not limited to keeping in contact with the creditor, making payment arrangements, and meeting the terms of those arrangements. If the applicant currently has unpaid collections, judgments, liens, or charged off accounts, in the absence of unusual mitigating circumstances, the Board considers it important that the applicant demonstrate several months payments as agreed to show a good faith effort to clear the debts.

If an applicant has defaulted student loans, the Board may in its discretion hold the application in abeyance until the applicant has made arrangements with the lender(s) for repayment of the loan(s) and has made several months consecutive and uninterrupted monthly payments pursuant to the plan agreed to by the lender(s). Any arrearage in child support must be paid before an applicant will be certified by the Board.

D. Evidence of mental impairment:

Evidence of mental impairment, including evidence of impairment due to psychiatric conditions, is one of the factors about which the Board must inquire in determining the applicant’s fitness to practice law. Board members recognize that the stresses of law school, as well as other life factors, frequently result in applicants seeking psychiatric or psychological counseling. The Board encourages any applicant to obtain such counseling or treatment when potential benefits might accrue. The applicant should not allow the bar application process to deter them from obtaining treatment or counseling when potential benefits might accrue. Applicants should be aware that the Board looks favorably on applicants’ self-recognition of their need for treatment and appropriate utilization of professional services.

E. Drug or alcohol dependency:

Evidence of impairment due to drug or alcohol dependence or abuse is a factor that must be considered by the Board in determining the applicant’s fitness to practice law. The applicant should be prepared to provide treatment records as well as other records of incidents which were associated with any impairment. The Board may require applicants to obtain a drug or alcohol evaluation from a licensed professional recommended by the Board.

An applicant who has a problem with drugs or alcohol is strongly encouraged to get the counseling or treatment needed as soon as possible. If the applicant has been impaired due to chemical dependency or abuse, the applicant’s recognition of the problem and the treatment record will be important positive evidence of rehabilitation, regardless of the seriousness of any misconduct which may have arisen from the chemical dependency.

F. Evidence of Rehabilitation

The Board shall determine whether the character and fitness of an applicant qualify the applicant to take the North Carolina Bar Examination or to be admitted by comity. In making this determination, the following factors should be considered in assigning weight and significance to prior conduct:

1. The applicant's age at the time of the conduct.

2. The recency of the conduct.

3. The reliability of the information concerning the conduct.

4. The seriousness of the conduct.

5. The factors underlying the conduct.

6. The cumulative effect of the conduct or information.

7. The applicant's candor in the admissions process.

8. The materiality of any omissions or misrepresentations.

9. The evidence of rehabilitation and the applicant's positive social contributions since the conduct.

Evidence of rehabilitation is one of the main factors the Board uses to determine whether past problems should lead to denial of an application. Under Rule .0601 of the Board’s Rules, every applicant has the burden of proving that the applicant possesses the qualifications of character and general fitness requisite for an attorney and counselor-at-law and is possessed of such good moral character as to be entitled to the high regard and confidence of the public. An applicant who asserts rehabilitation from prior misconduct which bears adversely upon the applicant’s character and fitness shall be required to produce clear and convincing evidence of such rehabilitation, which may include but are not limited to the following elements:

1. Absence of recent misconduct

2. Strict compliance with the specific conditions of any disciplinary, judicial, administrative or other order, where applicable

3. Impeccable character and moral standing in the community

4. Good reputation for professional ability, where applicable

5. Sufficiency of the punishment including payment of fines and restitution made; including the restitution of funds or property, where applicable

6. Applicant's current attitude about prior offenses (acceptance or responsibility and renunciation of past wrongdoing and remorse)

7. Lack of malice and ill feeling toward those who by duty were compelled to bring about the disciplinary, judicial, administrative or other proceeding

8. Personal assurances, supported by corroborating evidence, of a desire and intention to conduct one's self in an exemplary fashion in the future

9. Applicant's constructive activities and accomplishments subsequent to the criminal conviction

10. Applicant's candor, sincerity and full disclosure in character and fitness proceedings

11. Positive actions beyond those one would do for self benefit including but not limited to working as a guardian ad litem, volunteering on a regular basis with shelters for the homeless or victims of domestic violence or maintaining substantial involvement in other charitable, community or educational organizations whose value system, overall mission and activities are directed to good deeds and humanitarian concerns impacting a broad base of citizens

12. Demonstration of the applicant's understanding of the responsibility to the administration of justice and the practice of law

Merely showing that an individual is now living as and doing those things that this person should have done throughout life, although necessary to prove rehabilitation, does not prove that the individual has undertaken a useful and constructive place in society. The requirement of a positive action is appropriate for applicants for admission to the bar because service to one’s community is an implied obligation to members of the Bar.

The Board will not consider witness testimony or evidence offered by a witness in support of the applicant on any issue listed above unless the witness has been fully informed of the misconduct before offering the evidence.

FOOTNOTE: These character and fitness guidelines were based on the recommendations by the American Bar Association, the National Conference of Bar Examiners and Association of American Law Schools in the Code of Recommended Standards for Bar Examiners as well on the decision and procedures used in other states.
posted by pasici at 9:02 AM on April 28, 2008

And I keep on thinking of more stuff...

if you don't want to practice big corporate law and stay in one particular state, you may also want to look at unaccredited by ABA law schools. For example, in Santa Barbara, CA, there is a small law school "Santa Barbara College of Law" - most of my LSAT students make fun of it - but in the Santa Barbara court system, the majority of lawyers and judges are graduates from it. And throughout the state of California, there are tons of SB College of Law grads doing just fine.

Because they are unaccredited, they give pretty good financial aid and have less strict admissions (as I recall, a 3.5 or 3.3 in university OR a 155+ on the LSAT).

Maybe there is a similar school near you?
posted by k8t at 9:04 AM on April 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Your finances are probably the biggest impediment to passing C&F -- people who are buried in debt, or otherwise have problems with finances, are much more subject to bribes and the like, so there's an obvious reason to keep them out. Virtually every lawyer starts their law career with a staggering student loan debt,

Talk to your state's bar about it. They're the only ones that can give you any sort of meaningful guidelines on this matter.

I have documented ADHD and have struggled with it in various areas of my life

The level of detail required for a lawyer to provide competent council to her client is not compatible with insufficiently treated ADHD, unless the sufferer has it completely under control. Your ADHD would become not just your struggle, but your clients' as well -- if you even made it through school. You say that you're learning to control it, but that you still have trouble with workloads and deadlines... consider getting it co the first step towards becoming a lawyer -- competent lawyers don't miss deadlines.

Your slightly disorganized writing, your lack of self-confidence: everything about my history screams "not good enough", your suggestion that financial disarray, history of sex work, and a (misdemeanor?) shoplifting conviction are somehow morally analogous to a "frat boy's" alcohol violation, even your history of getting fired -- all of these things add up to someone who really isn't ready to go to law school, right now.

Right now, you sound like the kind of person who'll get behind during her first year, not know how to pull herself out of it (especially while resentfully watching "lesser" people, like formerly drunken frat boys, seemingly get through with ease), and this will psychologically snowball. This is deadly in law school.

For better or worse, first year law school is extremely effective at weeding people like this out. Every lawyer knows a few people who just couldn't handle it, and dropped out (and/or had breakdowns) during first year. You don't want to be that person... and right now, you really seem to fit the profile.

Sorry, I know that's not what you wanted to hear.
posted by toxic at 9:06 AM on April 28, 2008 [5 favorites]

anon: Do they disqualify people with ADHD from being lawyers for being flaky or crazy?

I'm no lawyer, but I know many. Also, I have ADD.

The answer is "no." Hell, tons of lawyers are ADHD.
posted by Viomeda at 9:10 AM on April 28, 2008

Sorry... left an unfinished sentence/half-thought up there.

Virtually every lawyer starts their law career with a staggering student loan debt, and the bar needs to be confident that you'll pay it back (and shitty credit does not instill that confidence, no matter the reason) -- because if the creditors start pressuring you, you're more likely to take a bribe, or over-bill, or commit other financial misdeeds.
posted by toxic at 9:26 AM on April 28, 2008

I'm seconding crush-onastick: you really should contact the board of law examiners. Don't rely on these responses you get here to chance taking out huge student loans and then having to face the possibility that you might not be admitted to the bar. there are plenty of attorneys that i know right now who are barred in several states but can't find a good job. Although i don't doubt that you'd probably be a great lawyer, having a JD but not being a member of any bar and facing looming loan repayment is a sucky situation.

They're really only concerned with issues that speak directly to your honesty and trustworthiness. Therefore, the credit issue might be a problem. You should try to fix your credit as much as possible. The sex work is more difficult to say-- I've never known anyone in the same situation, although I've known people who had problems being admitted for seemingly very petty things. One guy I know did a sloppy job on a citation on a submission for his law review journal and was subsequently charged with plagiarism. He still isn't barred because of it.

But overall, the examination is very cursory. They generally ignore anything that isn't directly related to your honesty & trustworthiness, but that isn't to say that you wouldn't have problems with the issues you've got. And of course, as over people have noted, things vary considerably by state. Hell, Maryland left a murderer in.

Speak to the board (anonymously, of course) and see what your state's board is like.

Also, I'd definitely recommend against attending an unaccredited school.
posted by buka at 9:36 AM on April 28, 2008

eh, that should be "Maryland let a murderer in."
posted by buka at 9:37 AM on April 28, 2008

I would second contacting the boards in any state that you may want to practice.

That said, you have a non-trivial chance of not passing the C&F exam. What's worse, you won't really know whether you'll pass until after you've invested 3 years of your time and many, many tens of thousands of dollars in debt. Personally, I would not even take the LSAT until I had assurances that I had a 90%+ chance of being admitted, together with examples of similarly situated lawyers who were admitted.

Whatever specific guidance you receive here or from a board regarding your chances of admission, I recommend that you take the most conservative estimate you receive and lower it a few notches. You should make your decision on the basis of the worst possible case because the consequences of failure are so dire.

Remember, student loan debt cannot be discharged through bankruptcy, so if you go through school and fail to land a high paying job, you will be in an extremely difficult position financially. Apart from that, graduating from law school and being admitted to practice is not a ticket to financial security. Every year, thousands of law school graduates leave school unemployed. Many of them never find work as an attorney, and the jobs they are forced to take typically do not pay well. You need to seriously question whether becoming a lawyer is even a financially wise thing for you to attempt.

In sum, were I in your shoes, I would not go to law school unless I had a guaranteed, high-paying fall back career. And frankly, if I had such a fall back, I would sooner save myself the three years of pain and go straight into that. It's probably not what you want to hear, but you absolutely should not gamble such a large amount of time and money on such long odds.
posted by jedicus at 9:59 AM on April 28, 2008

(unowen? is that you? It totally is, isn't it?)

Of course the answer is "it depends". You could probably get through some state's character and fitness committee, but you won't know until after you're already on the hook for the tuition. But everyone else already said that. I'd rate your challenges as:

1. Credit. They will pull a report. You will have to explain that. You may not be seated.
2. Arrests. They will pull a report. You will have to explain them. You may not be seated.
3. Employment history. Not really a big deal.
4. ADHD. You won't even have to answer any questions.

Of course, the last two may seriously implicate your ability to get a job to even cover your student loans. The legal market is very very bad. Top graduates at top schools have trouble getting hired. It's your life, but it doesn't sound like a good bet to me.
posted by norm at 11:02 AM on April 28, 2008

Only you can know if you want to become a lawyer or not. And to be honest, the only reason for going to law school is to become a lawyer.

However, having said that, I know many folks with ADHD who not only got extra time on their all-important law school exams, they also passed the bar quite nicely (thank you, ADA!).

I know lawyers who were arrested for simple possession before entering law school. I know practicing lawyers with worse convictions. However, also know of aspiring lawyers with minor convictions: the moral fitness standard not only varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but also, often, from examiner to examiner.

To that end, I would not recommend you hire a law school admissions counselor. I would suggest that you speak with admissions counselors at the law schools you're applying to, and ask them with whom you should speak with on this.

Finally (and this is nthing much of what's said above) you should go to the best school that will take you located in the jurisdiction that you want to live in. You should pay as little as you can for law school. If money is a concern, know that you'll have to get very good grades, and then move to firm life. Otherwise, this may not cost-benefit out for you.
posted by deejay jaydee at 11:06 AM on April 28, 2008

The ADHD is a non-issue.

On the other hand, do not not NOT cop to the sex work. I like sex workers just fine, for the record, but I am not your state's bar association.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:16 AM on April 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

More detail on what deejay jaydee suggests: study this chart and read this WSJ article. Before you start law school, you need to (1) calculate the cost of your investment and then (2) the likelihood of earning enough to pay off that investment.

Everyone thinking about law school needs to figure this out, but I suspect (perhaps unfairly) that with your ADHD and what you've written, your grades may disqualify you from the better law schools that, with a few exceptions, are prerequisites to a six-figure salary that removes most of the pain and sacrifice from loan repayments. And similarly, I am guessing (perhaps unfairly again) that you do not have access to the sort of wealth that would obviate the need for loans in the first place.

Thus, your only problem isn't passing the C&F interview. It's getting into a sufficiently prestigious law school and doing sufficiently well once there so that you stand a chance of getting hired from a sufficiently well-paying firm or agency to pay back your loans. Looking realistically at your undergraduate grades and LSAT scores, will that be possible?

Good luck.
posted by hhc5 at 11:20 AM on April 28, 2008

Make sure you declare it on your application to law school (or if you have failed to do it, call up the law school you have been accepted to now and tell them about your record asap). From what I've been told by professors at my school is that the earlier you come clean the better and that usually the bar will call your law school to ask them if you tried to hide this information, it can go a long way if you didn't. I don't know what to tell you about the sex work, but I would absolutely tell them anything that is on your record.
posted by whoaali at 12:48 PM on April 28, 2008

I am in a separate jurisdiction to you (England & Wales) but it is another common law system with some similarities including, it seems, regulations about character and fitness.

Friends of mine in law school were concerned about arrests and cautions for minor drug offences up to 10 years previously. The Law Society's view appeared to be that with full and frank disclosure these 'youthful indiscretions' could be seen as just that. The regulator was much more concerned with offences involving violence or dishonesty although multiple minor offences were apparently a red flag. Shoplifting coupled with a string of public order offences could be problematic.

As others have said above, you can get away with some things if you declare them up front. If you're found out as having failed to disclose material information, kiss that practicing certificate goodbye. Here's the rub: there's things that you're going to have to disclose as they are a matter of public record. Accordingly you are likely to be scrutinised more closely than candidates making no declaration. Whether this leads to a chain of skeletons falling out of your closet is something that really only you can determine. If there is any chance of a domino effect you should think long and hard.

Finally, given the issues which you have raised vis a vis ADHD I would think long and hard about whether you are suited to the high-pressure demands of legal practice. I suggest that, if possible, you take a year out and work as a paralegal to get a closer idea of the day-to-day work of a lawyer and whether you’d be suited to it. Given what you have told us about your employment history to date this would appear to make you more employable rather than less.

I don’t like the idea that ‘girl’s like you don’t get to be lawyers’. Without compromising professional standards, I think that the profession needs more practitioners with real ‘life experience’ if it is to be representative. Get the informed opinions that you’re being well advised to obtain above but be prepared to take a pragmatic decision. No one is going to offer you any assurances about your chances of admission ahead of time so you need to have taken a view prior to starting law school.

For what it’s worth, my opinion is that given the terrifying levels of debt that American lawyers accrue in the course of law school this is not a bet worth making. Again, sorry but I know that this isn’t what you want to hear. I get a strong sense that you are interested in public interest law. Would you consider working for an NGO or charity in whose objectives you’re are invested?

Whatever you decide, I wish you the very best of luck. I was more fortunate in my circumstances than you but I was also a later entrant into the legal profession about 7 or 8 years older than most of my peers. Public interest and criminal law in particular need people who can relate to the often-difficult life circumstances of their clients. You sound unusually well placed to do so.
posted by dmt at 1:46 PM on April 28, 2008

No one here can give you a definitive answer about how a given state bar exam committee will react to your particular situation - there are too many variables. That being said, here are my thoughts on your list of concerns:

1) Job History - This shouldn't be a problem, unless you were terminated from a position for lying, stealing, etc. If it was just poor job performance or disagreements with the boss, the committee shouldn't care less. They are there to examine your character, not hire you. Don't lie about the reasons for your termination, but you probably don't have to go into a lot of detail either, unless they ask for more information.

2) Sex work - You don't want to have to disclose this to the committee. You're right to worry about the stigma you may face because of it.

3) Criminal history - Arrests for protests should not be a factor against you, although it will probably get your application flagged for closer review. A conviction for shoplifing is not helpful, because theft is considered a crime of moral turpitude. However, if this took place in your youth, and was a minor offence, you shouldn't worry about it. Usually, it is only crimes involving fraud or deception that serve as de facto disqualifiers for bar entry.

4) ADHD - This should not be a basis for denying admission, although it probably depends on how severe it really is, if you are taking medication for it, and if you have any other mental conditions. Some bar questionnaires ask you to disclose all medications you are taking for mental health reasons.

5) Credit - This could be your biggest problem, especially the debt that is in collection from your medical bills. The committee will likely pull your credit report, and they will review it. Get all of the incorrect information off of your report before you apply to the bar. Owing a debt is no grounds for denial, as long as you are in the process of paying it off. You will need ot come to some payment arrangement with the debt collector for your medical bill so that the debt will be marked as being repayed, rather than as in default.
posted by thewittyname at 2:28 PM on April 28, 2008

Sex work, under the table, is not a job that you have to report, any more than one would have to list people whose lawns you mowed, occasionally to make extra money, as "former employers."

A person who does not have a steady work history, who had been regularly fired and cannot keep her finances in order is unlikely to meet the rigorous rehabilitation standard most boards of bar examiners require.

I disagree with this.

Lack of a steady work history will absolutely not prevent you from being admitted to the bar.

The shoplifting conviction, depending on when it was, could pose serious problems. If you were eighteen years old at the time of conviction, and you're now thirty, I would feel better about it, than if you were twenty-one when convicted and you're now twenty-five. The more time has passed since that conviction, the better.

Spotty finances may raise questions with the bar examiners, but if you are CURRENTLY paying on your debts, it is unlikely that you will be denied admission. If you could go ahead and settle these debts, with a lump-sum payment to the credit card companies (even if the settlement is just a fraction of what you owe), it would be better than having the debt still be in default status.

What the bar is concerned about is whether you have a history of dishonest financial dealings, or current debts that might lead to you committing dishonest actions due to financial pressures.

There are a lot of very messed-up people who are regularly admitted to practice of law.
posted by jayder at 3:14 PM on April 28, 2008

k8t: BTW, if you take the LSAT with accomodations for your ADHD, the law schools DO NOT see that you took it accomodated

Wrong. If you take the LSAT with additional time (which is one of the accomodations that people with ADHD often request) the law schools you are applying to ARE notified by LSAC that "your score(s) should be interpreted with great sensitivity and flexibility".
posted by mlis at 9:56 PM on April 28, 2008

posted by prefpara at 7:10 AM on April 29, 2008

Legal degrees are helpful in getting many jobs even if you aren't admitted to the bar. If you want the education, and really think you can get a job that will pay off the loans, I wouldn't let the character & fitness component stop you.

Also, I'll nth that, from what I've heard, getting arrested at protests does hold up your application while it's reviewed more closely but alone isn't enough to stop you (these anecdotes are from Arizona and California).
posted by salvia at 9:12 AM on April 29, 2008

I really want to be a lawyer

One more thought: I don't know what sort of flexibility you have in your life, but there are a lot of states.
posted by salvia at 9:17 AM on April 29, 2008

I don't think I'm a bad person, and I do think I'd be a good lawyer.

reading your original post left me with the impression that you're anything but a bad person and that you have overcome considerable obstacles to get to where you are, which seems about half way down the road to achieving your current goal of being accepted to the bar.

I can't give you any real advise on the legal situation but you know what? you're doing it the right way. you are thinking in terms of achievable goals with set deadlines, not utopian dreams you never begin to work on.

and that makes you a pretty damn good person in my book.
posted by krautland at 9:22 AM on April 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm just finishing up my 1L year right now, and while the official record of my past isn't as checkered as yours might seem from the limited red flags you've given us, it's not exactly sterling, either.

The first bit of advice comes straight from every professor at my school (which is one of the best in the country, so hopefully this advice isn't bullshit.) The bar generally only pays attention to your 1L year onwards. It may vary from state-to-state, but from my understanding, the bar understands that people will run afoul of the law (this is a group with many defense attorneys to it's name, after all) but they look for assurance that any shenanegans have stopped once you started taking a legal profession seriously. So whatever you do, keep your nose clean from now on. That means no drugs, no more sex work, etc.

Secondly, cop to absolutely everything once you're questioned. If it happened before 1L year and you can explain it (and it sounds like you probably can) then it'll be fine, most likely. The thing that is most likely to prevent you from admittance to the bar is if you lie or omit information about yourself. So admit and explain everything.

As a corollary to both of those things, get your finances in order and mention them once you're up for admittance. For one thing, it's just best in life to have your finances in order to begin with, especially when you're going into such an expensive investment as law school. Secondly, it's probably the easiest thing that they can find out about you.

If your arrests were misdemeanor or tied to protests, it should be fine, as should your employment terminations. A couple of my most prestigious law professors will sprinkle stories of their arrests, firings, and employment gaps into their lectures for color. They all got on the bar.

Now, onto the ADHD. I think (take this with massive amounts of salt) that Missouri is the only state bar left that would consider such a thing in their admittance standards. That said, I know that I'm very disorganized and flighty myself, and that I trusted that the rigors of law school would act as a sort of boot camp to get me in line. IT WILL NOT. Law School doesn't give a shit whether you succeed or not. I'm only just now getting myself in line for finals, and this first year has often been awful because I thought I would just catch up. Do whatever you can to get your ADHD under control before attempting this, as it's much more difficult than you probably imagine before going in.

Personally, I think you can do it, and nothing you've mentioned would keep me from hiring you as my lawyer if you can make it through. But prepare yourself for the school. That's the biggest hurdle in your way, actually.
posted by My Bloody Pony at 5:07 PM on April 29, 2008

The level of detail required for a lawyer to provide competent council (sic) to her client is not compatible with insufficiently treated ADHD, unless the sufferer has it completely under control.

What a load of horse manure. Being a lawyer is a pretty good career choice for a smart person with ADHD and if you hang around with lawyers you will see that this is true. The job frequently entails many short periods of intense focus, which if you know anything about ADHD is pretty much what that is all about. Being a judge though and having to sit through hours of boring testimony, now that might be hard.

Anyway, Toxic you appear to have little knowledge of law or ADHD and should just stay out of this discussion.

Anon, if you have ADHD don't let this deter you from a legal career. In any career you will need to learn some coping skills to overcome the limitations on extended concentration, but it need not hold you back in law or most other careers. Just keep breaking everything down into small bursts of concentration. The best thing you can do for yourself on these facts is get your credit in order by graduation. The most common problem lawyers get into is co-mingling client funds and a bad credit history will raise red flags. It won't keep you out, but you will have difficult conversations about it. The one thing you must do is be scrupulously honest with the C&F folks. Don't hold anything back. If they smell dishonesty you will have trouble, and rightly so. If you are overly honest about even minor crap you look more like someone who can be trusted. Seriously, I know a few lawyers with far, far worse sins (exposing oneself to children) on their record who passed the C&F process. They fucked up on that one though, as he did it again, and then again, so they finally yanked his license. Anyway, my point is that the biggest concern is whether you will steal from your clients. Nothing in your history points to this, except mildly the credit stuff. You don't have drug issues, you don't gamble, you have no fraud, these are the hot buttons. There are a lot of people in this thread talking out of their asses. Do yourself a favor and contact the C&F folks in your state for a reality check. If they don't give you comfort then contact one of the few attorneys who specialize in this area. The C&F folks will know who to talk to. Take their recommendations.
posted by caddis at 7:30 PM on April 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Thank you all for your help, advice and (yes) challenges! You've given me a lot to think about, and I very much appreciate it.
posted by badgirlesq at 9:40 PM on April 29, 2008

I think that the advice you have received has generally good. In my state, you would probably be admitted, but you might have some issues getting admitted. You should consider consulting a lawyer who handles these kinds of issues in the state you would likely wish to admitted in. They are very good at this kind of thing and will guide you in the right direction.

In my jurisdiction, the arrests would be an issue, but probably not one that you could not work around. You will have to explain them in a way that suggests that you accept the gravity of the arrests but that you will not be arrested again. And absolutely keep your nose clean for the next several years.

Unless you are actively defrauding or ignoring your creditors, the credit is not likely to be that big of an issue. Spend the next several months getting the errors cleaned up, get current on everything and prepare to explain why you have large unpaid medical bills. I can't imagine that there is a state bar out there which is not going to admit someone who has otherwise shown herself to be paying back her debts just because she has large medical bils left over from an uninsured pregnancy.

The arrests are not that big of a deal, you just have to explain them by describing the situation and why you got fired. If it's for mistakes and not intentional wrongful acts, you should be fine.

The sex work thing is tough. Was what you were doing illegal? Consider carefully leaving anything out, but you may be right to decide not to disclose it.


However, you have received some crap advice about other things here. Namely Legal degrees are helpful in getting many jobs even if you aren't admitted to the bar. If you want the education, and really think you can get a job that will pay off the loans, I wouldn't let the character & fitness component stop you. and if you don't want to practice big corporate law and stay in one particular state, you may also want to look at unaccredited by ABA law schools. For example, in Santa Barbara, CA, there is a small law school "Santa Barbara College of Law" - most of my LSAT students make fun of it - but in the Santa Barbara court system, the majority of lawyers and judges are graduates from it. And throughout the state of California, there are tons of SB College of Law grads doing just fine. .

Sorry, but that advice sucks. It is a waste of time and money to go to law school if you don't want to, intend to or expect to be eligible to, practice law. Full stop. Anyone who tells you otherwise is clueless of worse. Also, even if some graduates of unaccredited law schools eventually do well, most will be terrible trouble getting jobs, paying back their loans, etc. Most probably regret it. Unless you have money and time to burn, go to a decent or better law school, and absolutely don't go to one that is not an ABA law school.

Good luck, it sounds like you will be a credit to the profession. You are thinking about these things at the right time.
posted by iknowizbirfmark at 6:45 AM on May 1, 2008

Another thing you should think about, and I realize this isn't answering the question, but I think it's something for you to consider, especially given the other things you said on MetaTalk. If you are looking to work in a non profit which helps teenage mothers/runaway etc, there are a lot of other jobs within those organizations where you would likely be working along side lawyers and doing very similar work that don't require a JD. While I think you would probably make a good lawyer, your ADHD and the other stressed in your life would probably make getting through law school very difficult. I'm not saying you can't do it, but if that's your ultimate goal, there are many other cheaper and less stressful ways to get there that don't require the JD. I would call up a non profit that would be your "dream job" and ask them about what kind of non lawyers they hire and what kind of work those people do.
posted by whoaali at 2:59 PM on May 1, 2008

Having attended graduate school for an MFA and a PhD (unfinished) I can tell you that law school is one of the more expensive grad schools you can shoot for, and one that will put you into even more debt than you may already be in. If your finances are so bad that your credit report is something to worry about than this is not something you want to attempt - not until you have a more stable financial situation that is. If you get into grad school but then mid way through the first semester find out that it isn't working - you will still have those school loans to pay. Don't go there until you're sure that it's a good decision - take your time, meet with many people, discuss this thing to death before you take out any loans.
posted by batgrlHG at 5:09 PM on May 1, 2008

Hmm, okay, I'll withdraw the comment that there are reasons to go to law school besides being a lawyer. Amro criticized it in the Metatalk thread and iknowizbirfmark criticized it above. I have not gone to law school, so I'll defer here. To explain, (since it's now been called "a myth" and "crap advice"), I said it because I know someone who used her JD to get a kick-ass advocacy job without taking the bar. And working with a lot of advocates as I do, I think a solid understanding of law would be as good as, if not better than, any other type of grad school. Take my situation -- I have a masters of city planning. I'm sure my employer would have been just as happy, probably more happy, hiring someone with a JD focused on land use law. In my case, the MCP cost less than a JD, but if I'd gone to MIT's planning school, it would have cost more. That was my thinking.
posted by salvia at 10:55 PM on May 1, 2008

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