Law school applications: Disciplinary and criminal records

When you apply to law school, you will discover that all applications have a “Character and Fitness” section, which asks you about your undergraduate disciplinary record and your criminal record. These questions generally mirror the questions that will be asked of you when you seek admission to the bar, and therefore vary a little from one state to another.

The questions are sometimes very open-ended: those about your disciplinary record might ask for information about any time you have been disciplined either for academic or non-academic reasons. The questions about your criminal record may specifically ask you to describe any incident involving law enforcement, even if you were not convicted, were a juvenile, or the record was expunged or sealed.

In addition, a handful of schools still require an independent report on your college disciplinary record, called a “Dean’s Letter” or “Dean’s Certification,” which will be compared against your answers. (These certifications are usually required at the time of admission, not application, although some schools require them for all students who respond affirmatively to questions about university discipline.)

The first thing you need to know in answering these questions is that minor violations or convictions will not keep you out of law school. On the other hand, misrepresenting your disciplinary record or arrest record will be taken very seriously both by law schools and by the bar admission authority of the state in which you eventually seek to get licensed. Therefore, the guiding principle you should keep in mind as you respond to these questions is that you be completely forthcoming and honest. Any misrepresentation will hurt you far more than the underlying offense.