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Bar Admissions Blog

Helping Bar Applicants Prove Character and Fitness for Admission to the Bar

Unrecorded Offenses

Q. On spring break of my freshman year in college, I got caught for underage drinking and was detained by campus police for several hours. Nothing really became of it and I can't find a record of this anywhere. Must I put it on my application?

A. If you are ready to enter a profession requiring rigorous honesty, it should not matter whether bar examiners can or will find it on their own.

Honesty isn't only the best policy. It's the only policy you must follow when applying for admission to the bar.

Providing false or misleading information or intentionally omitting relevant details on your bar application can have serious consequences. Even if they don't catch the omission prior to your swearing-in, your lack of candor may lead to disciplinary action, or even revocation of any license you obtain.

This is no way to enter the legal profession. Even if you don't think certain offenses may be discovered, disclosure lets you put the past behind you, demonstrate your integrity, and put the circumstances into context.

As a practical matter, licensing boards in most jurisdictions conduct thorough background checks on their applicants. They may not rise to the level of FBI security clearances, but they probably have access to more information than you do. Unless you want to put your future at risk, it is safer to assume that bar examiners will find this information.

In most cases, the cover-up can hurt much more than the crime. This as true for an underage drinking arrest as it is for most any offense.

Because bar examiners must determine your current moral character and fitness to practice law, applicants can often overcome past misdeeds by emphasizing their growth in more recent years. But a lack of candor during the application process shows otherwise and will likely convince authorities that you have more growing up to do before seeking admission to the bar.

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