Don’t Let a Law School Mistake Haunt Your Future

Valuing Professional Reputation

Lawyers depend on reputation. Law is a profession. A profession is a network of skilled practitioners who generally trust and value one another based on their shared skills, experiences, and commitments. Indeed, trust is a critical attribute within a professional network.

Lawyers especially value their reputation for honesty and integrity when appearing before judges who depend on those attributes to make sound and wise decisions. The lawyer whom judges don't trust with law and facts is a losing lawyer. Lawyers also value their reputation when negotiating and otherwise dealing with opposing counsel whom, once again, lawyers must to some degree trust. The lawyer who other lawyers believe doesn't keep their word and instead lies or exaggerates about critical information, while failing to follow through on commitments, is the lawyer who can't get anything done.

The point is that for professionals, the past is prologue. Reputation, which is only what others believe about one's character based on one's past, matters. If you are a law student, you should heavily guard and greatly value your reputation, keeping clean your law school record that will soon become significant evidence of your trustworthy past. National academic attorney Joseph D. Lento's representation saves from misconduct charges the future careers of graduate and professional-program students nationwide.

Two Examples of Haunting Pasts

Past misconduct, including that which occurs in graduate or professional school, can indeed haunt a career. Accusations of law school plagiarism contributed to some degree to then-Senator Joe Biden's withdrawal from the 1988 presidential campaign, leaving echoes with which the candidate had to deal once again in his 2020 campaign. A report at the time indicated his confession that he had copied without attribution from a law review article in a first-year law school paper. One suspects that law student Biden had little idea that his first-year law school misconduct would once cost him, and nearly again later cost him, the presidency.

President Biden's experience teaches that law school misconduct is not life's end. Even dismissed law students sometimes get a second chance. One story reports the experience of a law student whose school dismissed him after his third term of arduous study, for having misrepresented a past conviction on the student's law school application. The misconduct wasn't the conviction. The misconduct was failing to fully and accurately disclose it in law school. After unsuccessful litigation against the school, the student eventually gained admission to another law school to complete the law degree. But consider the student's huge delay, cost, and embarrassment of the past coming back to haunt him.

What Could Be at Stake

The first of the above two examples illustrates what could be at stake for a law student facing potential misconduct charges. Lawyers have unusually attractive, broad, and prominent career opportunities. Those opportunities are one of the things that attract students to law school. Lawyers frequently become judges, high-ranking elected or appointed government officials, career civil and public servants, board members for prominent corporations and charitable organizations, and trusted advisors for the rich, famous, and influential.

All of those opportunities tend to depend on more than basic competence or even special skill. All of those opportunities can depend on a spotless reputation, including a sterling law school record and personal history. Discovering a haunting past doesn't even take an FBI background check like that commonly performed on law students seeking federal judicial clerkships or other federal positions. In this social-media-driven day and internet age, almost any interested person can quickly discover long-past histories. Don't let a law school mistake come back to haunt you decades later.

Truth or Consequences for Bar Admission

Students who face misconduct charges in law school risk more than their future professional opportunities and reputation. They also risk their law license required for entering the profession. State bars hold law students to high standards for admission. A state bar may well refuse a license to a law graduate whose school record shows unfitness or bad character for law practice. Simple dishonesty, like the above student's failing to disclose complete information on the law school application, can prevent licensure.

Law school history is so important for bar admission because state bars considering a law graduate's application for admission may not have much more of a record on which to judge the applicant's character and fitness than the applicant's law school record. If the applicant engaged in law school misconduct, why wouldn't the applicant exhibit the same misconduct in law practice, where the stakes and temptations can be even higher? Lawyers wield government authority when doing things like issuing subpoenas and garnishing accounts or wages. They'd better have good character and fitness.

Again, bar admission is the first reason why a good law school record is so important. Academic misconduct like a little exam cheating or paper plagiarism may not seem too harmful, more like victimless misconduct, even though it may deprive other more-deserving students of their own proper opportunities. But state bars do not regard academic misconduct as trifling. They instead regard it as a clue to the potential for much-more-injurious misconduct in law practice involving substantial human rights, property, and liberty. Read more detail here about law-student issues.

Law School Misconduct and Mistakes to Avoid

Admissions. So, what are the mistakes to avoid and, if falsely charged, to vigorously contest? Haunting misconduct issues can begin even before law school, with the law school admission process. The Law School Admission Council lists these more-common forms of admissions misconduct: submitting false or misleading application information; altering or falsifying transcripts; altering or falsifying recommendation letters; cheating on the Law School Admission Test; and falsifying financial-aid information. The rule is not once you're in, you're in. Law schools and state bars will look back at your law school application to ensure its accuracy and its consistency with bar applications. As the above example illustrates, an anomalous law school application can continue years later to haunt a law student or law graduate.

Academics. Academic misconduct is a core concern for law students, for the character-and-fitness reasons stated above. As this prominent student-conduct code example illustrates, law school academic misconduct can include any of the following forms common to other academic programs:

  • plagiarism including not just copying but failure to attribute ideas;
  • self-plagiarism (submitting the same work more than once for credit);
  • unauthorized collaboration;
  • use of unauthorized materials on exams;
  • taking more time than permitted on exams;
  • unauthorized disclosure of exam content to other students;
  • submission of employer work for academic credit; and
  • destruction or concealment of library or other academic resources.

Behavior. The forms of law school misconduct that could haunt a future law career or career in politics, business, the academy, or another field, include behaviors beyond academics. Law school sexual misconduct, treated under Title IX policies and related policies like this prominent example, can also prevent or haunt a future career. Sex discrimination and sexual harassment policies typically prohibit not just violent forms of sexual misconduct like rape or other forms of sexual assault but also:

  • unwelcome sexual advances;
  • requests for sexual favors;
  • conditioning education based on verbal, nonverbal, graphic, or physical conduct of a sexual nature or on sexual orientation or gender identity;
  • creating a severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive educational environment based on verbal, nonverbal, graphic, or physical conduct of a sexual nature or on sexual orientation or gender identity;
  • prostitution and solicitation to prostitution; and
  • retaliating for reporting sexual misconduct or participating in a sexual-misconduct proceeding.

Law school behavior policies, enforced with misconduct charges, do not stop at prohibiting sexual misconduct. They often also include unlawful drug and alcohol possession or distribution on school premises or at school events, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, trespassing, theft or destruction of school or student property, and other violation of law or disregard for peace and order. While common crimes like public drunkenness, trespassing, or petty theft at law school may seem unrelated to professional integrity, state bars may see them as indicators of disrespect for the law.

Professionalism. Mistakes to avoid, lest they haunt a law career, can go beyond law school conduct policies. Law firms and other employers of lawyers look for other indications of good and bad character, beyond what the schools themselves either reward or prohibit. Employers may take frequent unexplained interruptions in completing a law degree, withdrawal from and retaking of core courses, or frequent transfers from school to school or program to program, as evidence of potential unreliability. Employers tend to value institutional loyalty, personal stability, and consistent productivity. Avoid misconduct and mistakes, and vigorously contest false or exaggerated misconduct charges that would leave you looking inconsistent and unreliable.

Keep Misconduct Charges from Haunting You

Fortunately, all is not lost with misconduct charges. You can still do important and effective things to prevent misconduct charges from haunting your future career. Those things depend on your taking full advantage of your law school's dispute-resolution procedures. You went to law school at least in part to learn how parties resolve significant disputes justly. You can and should turn that passion toward your own defense in the event of misconduct charges.

Law schools routinely maintain elaborate procedures for resolving misconduct charges, as this prominent example illustrates. Those procedures typically offer a formal hearing before an independent decision-maker, to any student accused of misconduct that could result in suspension or dismissal. Importantly, the decision-maker is not the official who pursues and advocates the charges. Law schools properly separate the prosecution role from the adjudication role to ensure an unbiased decision-maker.

Law schools may also be more likely than other schools to allow the accused student to have lawyer representation and to permit the student's lawyer to cross-examine witnesses at the hearing. Law schools are, after all, training lawyer advocates and should thus respect the profession's representation norms, although not all law schools do so. Some law schools, as this additional prominent example illustrates, even permit the student's lawyer to make the closing argument for an overall trial-like procedure. Elaborate, trial-like procedures ensure that law students have the greatest chance to keep misconduct charges from unfairly haunting their future careers.

Retain the Best Available Attorney

Law students, more so than any other graduate or professional-program students, should know and appreciate the value of retaining the best available counsel. Elaborate, trial-like procedures ensure that law students facing misconduct charges can benefit from national law student attorney Joseph D. Lento's premier representation. Attorney Lento has the strongest trial skills and the most-persistent and strategic approach for defeating false or exaggerated misconduct charges. Attorney Lento has developed his sensitive and effective approach from many years of experience representing students nationwide on misconduct charges of all kinds. He knows what the best possible outcome is and how to achieve it to preserve a law student's bright future.

As to in what instances to retain a national law student attorney, the first answer is whenever the outcome of misconduct charges may appear on the student's official record. No one wants an inaccurate or otherwise negative official record haunting their career years or even decades into the future. It won't even take a most-prestigious Supreme Court nomination to make your past important. You will have to disclose misconduct proceedings right out of law school on your bar applications. Graduating from law school is not alone enough. Graduating with a record of an unfavorable resolution of misconduct charges may well result in a state-bar character-and-fitness hearing, delaying licensure by months.

Those interests are why you should take the greatest advantage of your law school's misconduct procedures, retaining the best-available attorney advocate for the best possible outcome to misconduct charges. Students nationwide retain national student misconduct attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm to successfully defend against misconduct charges of all kinds. Attorney Joseph Lento has the commitment, passion, expertise, and approach to help law students successfully navigate law school misconduct proceedings. Call 888-535-3686 to schedule a consultation, or use the online service.

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If you, or your student, are facing any kind of disciplinary action, or other negative academic sanction, and are having feelings of uncertainty and anxiety for what the future may hold, contact our offices today, and let us help secure your academic career.

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