If you're a law student currently facing the prospect of taking the Bar Exam, you might be nervous about your prospects. This is, after all, one of the last big hurdles you have to clear before embarking on your dream of being a lawyer. You've worked for many long and hard years to get to this point.
You need to make sure that you're able to present yourself in the best possible way so that you can make the most of this opportunity.
If you're in trouble with your school because of misconduct or you have misconduct on your permanent record, you might wonder: Will this affect your chances when you stand before your state's Bar?
The short answer is: Yes, unfortunately - a finding of responsibility (or colloquially, a guilty determination) will likely impact your Bar admission. If you're a law student or a lawyer, you need to be aware that the legal profession expects very high standards of ethical and professional behavior. This expectation begins when you're in school, not after graduation.
Unfortunately, law school is also demanding, competitive, and often cutthroat. Some students will seek to use dishonest tactics to come out ahead. Seeing that happen - and seeing students get away with those actions - can make it easy to assume that you can do the same. In other situations, the exhaustion and heightened personal dynamics that can accompany law school can lead to behaviors and actions that you may not have considered otherwise.
And of course, universities make mistakes. Innocent students may suffer undeserved or overblown consequences resulting from misunderstandings or overreactions.
Regardless of your rationale, if your record is less-than-clean as you approach the Bar Examination, you need to do something about it. By working with a smart, savvy legal team to build a strong case against your misconduct, you may be able to increase your chances of success when you stand before the Bar.
At the Lento Law Firm, that's what we do: We firmly believe that past mistakes should not hold you back from your future.
Here's what you need to know.
The Standard: Expected Conduct for Legal Professionals
One of the reasons that law students need to exhibit moral fiber and ethical behavior is simple: In the future, they will need to be responsible for the quality of justice for their communities and clients. The American Bar Association wrote a guide describing the standard of professional conduct for attorneys and other legal professionals. In it, the American Bar Association makes it clear that lawyers play multifaceted roles; and each of those facets requires deep-seated integrity and honesty from each member of the legal profession.
Lawyers and legal professionals serve as advisors, advocates, negotiators, and evaluators for people and communities who need help. Each of those roles needs someone who is committed to truth, acting in a client's best interest, and cooperating honestly.
If there is anything in your record that demonstrates that you may have difficulty fulfilling any of these roles, the Bar of your state would rather know that before admitting you instead of after.
The Bar: What It Is and Why It's Important
The Bar refers both to a state's professional organization of attorneys as well as to the examination that aspiring attorneys must pass to be admitted.
In order to practice law in the United States of America, you need to be a member of the Bar in the state where you plan to practice.
The steps for admission to your state's Bar are simple, but each requires a herculean amount of effort in its own way. To join your state's Bar, for the most part, you must have a legal degree. Then, you need to pass the Bar Examination; and, finally, you must keep up with annual licensing and member dues.
If you plan on practicing law in more than one state, you will need to go through the licensure process in each of those states and join the State Bar of each state (unless the states in question have a reciprocal relationship with each other).
If you violate the canon of ethics that accompanies your profession, you may find yourself disbarred - which means that you essentially lose your license to practice law.
Moral Fitness and the Bar
The concept of ethics and moral fitness does not begin after you join your state's Bar; rather, the admission processes for joining your state's Bar include a rigorous character and fitness screening to help decrease the likelihood of disbarment after successful admission.
The National Conference of Bar Examiners has released a comprehensive guide to Bar admission requirements that should shed some light on what your state's Bar may expect in terms of your past and current conduct.
First, it's important to realize that the Bar isn't just being picky when it comes to their high standards. The legal profession requires a certain amount of moral behavior - after all, a lawyer must create a relationship built on trust with each of their clients. In the public's interest, each state's Bar has systems in place to evaluate each prospective lawyer's character and fitness.
When a Bar applicant begins to put together the paperwork to support their application, they will approve an investigation into their conduct. The Bar examining authorities will also ask them to provide as much information as possible that could help the Bar authorities understand their past and personality. The Bar authorities will have rules to follow regarding due process and confidentiality of records - as well as rules to follow regarding the standards of admission to their state's Bar.
One paragraph in particular from the National Conference of Bar Examiner's guide to admission requirements contains the following language painting a portrait of the ideal lawyer:
“A lawyer should be one whose record of conduct justifies the trust of clients, adversaries, courts, and others with respect to the professional duties owed to them.”
The guide goes on to clarify that:
“A record manifesting a significant deficiency in the honesty, trustworthiness, diligence, or reliability of an applicant may constitute a basis for denial of admission.”
If you're a law student with misconduct on your record or if you're undergoing a current misconduct procedure, this can be scary to hear. After all, you've put in years of hard work to get where you currently are. Is it possible that a mistake would set you back - or make it impossible for you to practice law, even after you've gotten the education you need?
Fortunately, all is not lost. You just need to take timely action to deal with your misconduct in the right way. Working with a legal team now can ensure that, when it comes time to apply to your state's Bar, you don't have any disqualifying records to disclose. Instead, you can apply with confidence.
The Types of Misconduct Your State Bar Screens For
You may wonder if there are specific types of misconduct that your state's Bar looks for when screening potential members. Your state's Bar may have specific stipulations, and you should look into them before proceeding. The national recommendations for records that may cause further inquiry during an application procedure include:
• Any conduct that is specifically against the law
• Academic misconduct
• Documented occasions where you made false statements or lies of omission
• Misconduct related to your past employment
• Any actions that involve fraud, dishonesty, deceit, or misrepresentation
• Any instances in which you were abusive of the legal process
• Documented neglect of your financial responsibilities
• Documented neglect of your professional obligations
• Any violations of any court orders
• Evidence of emotional or mental instability
• Evidence of alcohol or drug dependency
• Any denials of admission to other state Bars on character or fitness grounds
• Any disciplinary action by a lawyer disciplinary agency or other professional disciplinary agencies of any other jurisdiction
It's important to note that just because you have one of these strikes against your character does not mean that you will receive an automatic disqualification for admission to your state's Bar. The admission board will weigh any of these factors while considering any of the following, which may help the board know how much weight to give any past instances of misconduct:
* The applicant's age at the time of the conduct
* The recency of the conduct
* The reliability of the information concerning the conduct
* The seriousness of the conduct
* The cumulative effect of conduct or information
* The evidence of rehabilitation
* The applicant's positive social contributions since the conduct
* The applicant's candor in the admissions process
* The materiality of any omissions or representations
Disclosing Misconduct: The Types of Past Actions that May Affect Your Legal Career
Several of the groups of misconduct described by the Bar's language as unacceptable are extremely vague in nature. For example, what types of academic misconduct are actually going to disqualify you from becoming a lawyer? Are there other disciplinary violations that you could accrue while in school that the Bar would flag later on?
Here, we'll go over the primary types of misconduct that you'll need to deal with, if applicable, prior to pursuing Bar admission in your state.
Plagiarism is one of the most common types of academic misconduct. Most schools look askance at any type of plagiarism, including accidental plagiarism. Plagiarism occurs when any person uses another person's thoughts or words without proper citation. Many schools see plagiarism as evidence of negligence on the student's part; other schools see it as a version of fraud. Avoiding plagiarism through the use of ample citations is the best way to protect yourself from this type of charge.
If you, in any instance, took action to give yourself an advantage over your peers in an educational setting through illicit means, then you may be guilty of cheating. (Many schools will find you guilty of cheating if you help someone else cheat, too.) Cheating is an act of deception that violates the ethical standards of the legal profession - and, as such, is not an action that the Bar will view kindly.
Fabrication or Falsification
If you have improperly changed any documents that are important for data, references, or citations for any of your academic projects or progress, your school may consider that a violation of your code of conduct. This could also involve changing official academic documents - such as your grades, or even a signature from one of your professors on a form or a letter of recommendation. This will be a big red flag to the Bar of your state, as forging or falsifying documents as a lawyer would constitute grounds for disbarment.
As you will have the opportunity to be a client representative when you are a lawyer, any misconduct on your record that involves violence or improper behavior can disqualify you from Bar consideration. Title IX or sexual misconduct is one such category of behavior - particularly as many related actions may constitute criminal acts. If you have any of the following types of conduct on your record, you need to take steps to resolve them properly:
• Dating violence
• Domestic violence
• Sexual discrimination
• Improper or lewd conduct in the workplace
While some of these actions may not seem like they're deal-breakers, the Bar is looking for people who will conduct themselves professionally around clients. To give yourself the best chance of Bar admission in your state, you need to ensure that your record is clean of any of these behaviors.
There are many types of misconduct that could cause your state's Bar to wonder whether you are a fit applicant. If you find yourself in trouble with your school over any type of misconduct, it's better to be safe than sorry: From the very beginning of your disciplinary process, take steps to ensure that you'll be able to present a clean record when you stand before the Bar.
Next, we'll cover the common steps of misconduct adjudication - as well as what you need to know in order to have your best strategic chance of a favorable outcome.
Disciplinary Violations and Due Process: What to Expect at Your School
Once you find out that your school suspects you of misconduct, whether it's true or not, you need to start preparing yourself for due process. Here's a quick rundown of what to do when you receive a notification of the allegations against you:
1. Breathe, and try to stay calm. This might be a surprising situation; it certainly won't be a pleasant one - but hyperventilating and getting overly frustrated will not help you or your case. Try to stay level-headed and logical so you don't do anything you might later regret.
2. Begin to put together a comprehensive dossier regarding what happened. Gather all of the information about your alleged misconduct possible; even a text message or a social media post may be important. Overlook nothing.
3. Review your school's disciplinary processes. These should be available in your school's code of conduct. This will help prepare you mentally for what's to come; however, there's another practical purpose to this exercise. One of the ways that you might be able to fight any undesirable disciplinary measures that your school deems appropriate is to show that your school did not follow its own policies regarding disciplinary processes. If you can familiarize yourself up-front with what should happen, it'll be easier to notice and document anything that isn't quite right as it happens later on.
4. Contact an experienced student defense attorney. At this early stage, it might seem like overkill to get professionals involved. It isn't. The earlier you can establish a relationship with a legal professional, the better they'll be able to handle your case and help you work towards the favorable outcome you seek. Additionally, your advisor will be far more familiar with disciplinary processes than you likely are. As a result, your advisor will serve as an accessible guide during a confusing and frustrating time.
After your school delivers a notice of the allegations against you, they will take time to investigate the alleged misconduct. You may receive an invitation to a formal hearing, or your school may decide to mete out disciplinary measures informally. You should have an opportunity to tell your side of the story and hear the charges against you. At the end of your school's adjudicative process, you will receive a notification regarding their decision and the consequences you face.
The Short-Term Sanctions You May Face for Your Misconduct
The specific consequences you can expect for disciplinary violations at your school will depend on the policies at your specific school.
If you disagree with the decisions that your school makes, you may be able to file an appeal. However, it's really only a good idea to do so if you have new information or if you can demonstrate that your school treated you unfairly during your disciplinary process. Your legal advisor can help you determine if you have the grounds for such an appeal.
You may face a short-term consequence for your misconduct. The most common penalties include:
Each of these can already carry rough implications. For example, a suspension or a dismissal will not mean that any investment you have already made into your education for that period of time will come back to you. As a result, you could find yourself in dire financial straits as well as with a future suddenly in jeopardy.
In other words, you may not even make it to the Bar examination.
This is one reason why hiring an established legal advisor as early as possible in your disciplinary process is key. You need to make sure that nothing happens that could affect your career before it even truly begins.
Unfortunately, these short-term consequences don't constitute the full extent of what could happen as a result of your misconduct.
The truly insidious thing is that the long-term consequences of these disciplinary measures are the ramifications that you really need to worry about; yet, these consequences do not feature on any list in your student handbook. With these disciplinary violations and measures on your permanent record, any future employer, professional organization, or school will think (at least) twice before offering you employment, membership, or admission.
This means that even if you are accepted to your state's Bar, this misconduct violation will follow you for the rest of your life. It will loom over every interview and lessen the chances of every job offer you anticipate.
You need to take care of this now. If you want to be able to take the Bar exam, if you want to receive admission to the Bar, and if you want to get a good job afterward, you need to hire a student defense attorney to help you clear your record.
You may wonder: You're in law school. You're training as someone who can defend others in a court of law. You may know precisely how to defend yourself, as well. Why is it worth hiring someone else to help you mitigate your misconduct charges?
How a Professional Misconduct Defense Attorney Can Help a Law Student
Even though you may technically be able to defend yourself as you work to handle your misconduct allegations, you shouldn't. That's a lot to take on, at a time that you're going to be stressed and scared. Bringing someone in who is capable of generating a strategic defense for you while thinking clearly and objectively will be one of the best possible decisions that you can make at this time.
There are other reasons that you'll want to work with a defense attorney that has experience under their belt. Here's why hiring a professional legal advisor will work in your best interest:
• Your legal advisor will have done this before. Even if you're learning how to represent clients in law school, there's no real alternative to having done it before - hundreds of times - successfully. Your legal advisor will have represented clients like you before, and will know how to work your case to your best advantage. They'll understand nuance in school codes of conduct, they'll know what to look for, and they'll understand how best to negotiate with your school's disciplinary board.
• Your legal advisor will help you hold your school accountable to its own rules. Your school may seek to rush your disciplinary process or steamroll over your rights in an effort to keep your alleged actions quiet. The mere presence of an external authority will make it much more likely that your school will stick to its own policies. In the event that your school does not do so, your legal advisor will know precisely what to do to leverage that situation in your best interest.
• Your legal advisor can help you heed deadlines, prepare for meetings, and present more persuasive defenses. Some schools may not allow you to have representations at disciplinary hearings, but that doesn't mean that your legal team won't be invaluable. Your legal advisor can help coach you on the best possible ways to present your defense. Your legal advisor can help you analyze the evidence that your school has against you, and your legal advisor can help you build a solid case for your innocence - whether your legal advisor will be able to be in the room or not when you deliver it.
Ultimately, having an expert attorney on your side will give you peace of mind as well as practical benefits that will help your case - and your future. Hiring a student misconduct defense advisor will be the best way you can help yourself at this time.
Joseph D. Lento is the Student Misconduct Defense Attorney You Need
When you're getting ready to embark on your legal career, you're on the precipice of realizing the benefit of years of hard work.
If you've made a mistake in the past, you need to make sure that that doesn't pull you back. Consider the investment that you've made in your future legal career: Many law students acquire huge amounts of student loan debt while they work out their law degree. Your past academic misconduct can't cost you the career that you've worked hard for, especially if you're in this situation. Otherwise, you might find yourself with considerable financial issues.
Don't take a gamble on your future. Hire a competent, clever student defense advisor to help you sort out your misconduct issues and clear your record, so you're ready to face the Bar with zero misgivings. The support of your attorney-advisor will be an integral guide for you during the confusing, frustrating process of navigating disciplinary concerns as an ambitious law student, when your reputation and your future are on the line.
If you face adjudication at your law school for academic, sexual, or other types of misconduct, call Joseph D. Lento. He can help you build a strategic case for your innocence, he can help mitigate consequences when necessary, and ultimately, he can help you best pursue a positive outcome. Contact the office today at (888) 535-3686 for more information.