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Only three states completely forbid convicted felons from becoming lawyers. These states include:
Other states say that you can still begin the law school application process if you have a criminal history (which shows a criminal conviction for either a misdemeanor or a felony).
But note that the application process includes several steps. For example, you have to:
pass the bar exam, and
show good moral character.
As to the latter, you can have your bar applications denied if you cannot show a positive moral character. The reality is that a criminal record showing a conviction, on its face, prevents you from making this showing.2
However, your state bar may approve your bar application if you can prove that you have rehabilitated yourself since your criminal conviction.3
2. What is proof of rehabilitation?
In general, your showing of rehabilitation must be commensurate with the seriousness of your misconduct.4
In considering whether or not you have rehabilitated yourself, bar examiners will often consider the following:
whether you applied to get your conviction pardoned and tried to restore your civil rights,
your recent conduct as it relates to honesty, trustworthiness, diligence, reliability, and judgment,
the amount of time that has passed since your conviction,
your occupation and family status,
whether you accepted responsibility for your crime, and
evidence of your commitment to community service.5
3. Should you disclose a conviction when applying for a law license?
Most often, yes. It is important for law school applicants to be honest and truthful when completing their law school applications.
When completing your application, you will have to complete a “Character and Fitness” section. This section often asks such questions as if you:
4. What happens if you are convicted while practicing law?
Practicing attorneys can usually get disciplined if they get convicted of a:
“serious” crime, or
crime involving moral turpitude.6
These are crimes that:
reflect adversely on an attorney’s honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer, or
involve interference with justice, false swearing, misrepresentation, fraud, deceit, bribery, extortion, misappropriation, or theft.7
If a state bar finds that you were in fact convicted of a serious crime or one involving moral turpitude, the bar will generally hold a hearing. The purpose of the hearing is to determine how you should be disciplined for your conviction.
At the conclusion of the hearing, the bar can decide to:
take no action,
suspend your license to practice law, or
Note that most state bars say that a “conviction” includes:
A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.