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Honestly, Don’t Lie in Your Law School Applications

The question of how much to disclose in law school applications is one that we’ve grappled with time and time again here on MSS. For more information on the topic, check out the posts “To Disclose or Not to Disclose?,” “Applying to Law School with a Record,” and “Explanatory Essays in the New Law School Admissions World” – but the general rule of thumb is that if you have any doubts about whether an issue is something that should be disclosed, you should err on the safe side and include it.

Well, at least one recent law student must not have been a MSS reader. A former Northwestern University School of Law student was expelled after it was discovered that he was a convicted felon, famous in Texas for posing as a lawyer. Whoops!

That former student sued Northwestern, claiming that he was never directly asked whether he was a convicted felon. It should be noted that he was a student in Northwestern’s LL.M. program, and apparently the application for that program does not directly ask about criminal convictions (though one might imagine that they have since fixed that oversight). The application for the J.D. program, however, does ask about previous criminal convictions.

Ultimately, though, the moral of the story is not about whether the application asks for a certain piece of information. Getting into a law school is just one step of becoming a lawyer; you also need to pass the bar. And even if you are able to get into law school without disclosing a criminal conviction, that’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to pass the bar.

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: in cases where you’re unsure about whether you need to disclose the skeleton in your closet, it’s always better to do so (or at least to obtain a definitive answer from someone with expertise on the subject about whether that skeleton needs to be disclosed). This case is a great illustration of why that is: the student in question claims he spent over $70,000 on the degree program, and he will never actually receive the degree.

Failing to disclose a potentially problematic piece of your history could, in the worst-case scenario, lead to wasting three years of your life and hundreds of thousands of dollars, and not having anything to show for it. It’s a risk that’s not worth taking, especially in light of the fact that having previous “misadventures” on your record isn’t necessarily a kiss of death for your application. There are ample resources available for dealing with such issues – the links at the beginning of this post are a good place to start.

So, everyone, say it with me: When in doubt, disclose!