Many law school applications include a Character and Fitness addendum that requires the applicant to reveal negative past behaviors. If you have something you need to disclose, such as a criminal arrest or a school suspension, don’t be intimidated. You can’t change the past, but you can present the facts in the best light possible. Here are some suggestions to help you through the process.
Do read the question carefully: One law school application might ask you to divulge only “misdemeanor and felony convictions,” another might ask about “arrests,” and a third might want to know about any citations, including minor traffic violations. Make sure you know exactly what the question is asking. If you are unsure whether to divulge, err on the side of divulging.
Do be honest—don’t lie: That may sound obvious, but it bears repeating. What you will hear over and over again is that if you are hiding something that will keep you from getting into law school, that same thing is likely to prevent you from ever practicing law. Don’t risk incurring thousands of dollars in debt only to find that you can’t become a lawyer.
Do be thorough—don’t leave out important details: If you do need to respond to one of these questions, provide all relevant details. If you have an arrest in your past, tell the committee what the arrest was for. Be specific. If it was for drug possession, were you charged with a misdemeanor or felony? What drug were you in possession of? When did the incident occur (e.g., how old were you, how many years ago did it happen)? Were the charges dropped, or were you convicted? What was the sentence, if any? Obtain copies of the official records of the arrest or citation as well as the disposition of your case so you can be as accurate as possible.
If you have a reasonable response to why the episode happened, provide it. Law schools are not looking for people who have never made a mistake; they are looking for people who can understand why and how they made the mistake.
Do take responsibility—don’t make excuses: Again, law schools are not expecting you to be perfect. Sure, they want you to be honest, but they also want to see that you can think critically, especially about yourself and your past experiences. If you had a misstep, take responsibility and show that you understand that what you did was wrong and have changed in ways that ensure that you will not find yourself in the same (or a similar) situation in the future. Show remorse. For example, growing up poor can be heartbreaking, but it is not an excuse to break the law.