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I have a black mark in my past. Do I have to disclose it on my application?

If the application asks you for information, you have to give it. Usually the applications will ask you to report incidents of cheating, academic fraud, arrests, convictions, etc. You must not hide this information. You need to present it accurately. Usually a paragraph or two will do, typed up separately and submitted with your application materials. If the incident was major (for example, I had a student arrested for possession of a handgun on the Berkeley campus—he’s now a successful attorney), you might wish to devote your personal statement to it. See the section on "Personal Statements" for details on when this option might be warranted.

Try not to worry about this "black mark." Law schools do not expect you to be perfect. A minor incident or two should not affect you too severely (depending on the circumstances, of course). A high percentage of applicants have some sort of alcohol or traffic violation on their records. Law schools tend to overlook minor infractions. However, if you have multiple infractions, ones that show a pattern of bad behavior, you may have a lot of explaining to do. Also, you will need to pass a moral character review before you are admitted to practice law. If you have questions regarding your eligibility, many states will do a "pre-screening" for you. Serious offenses such as felonies or those involving academic integrity (plagiarism, cheating, and the like) are, of course, taken seriously by law schools. If you feel you have a serious black mark against you, talk to your pre-law advisor or to the law schools themselves.

Finally, you need to know that if you are caught lying on a law school application, you will not be admitted. If you are caught later on during law school, you are likely to be expelled. If you are caught after law school, you can have your degree—and hence your career—taken away. "Lying," by the way, includes the failure to disclose requested information. Given that, you should err on the side of full disclosure.


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