Although they will be faced with a more difficult path than others, convicted felons are indeed able to become a lawyer. Though they will have hurdles to leap at nearly every step, with enough determination and hard work a felon can become a successful lawyer just as well as the next person. Several of the more difficult phases to overcome include gaining admission to law school, qualifying to sit for the bar exam, and passing the Character and Fitness evaluation, not to mention gaining employment after you get your license. In this article, I’d like to go over a few of the more difficult parts of becoming a lawyer as a convicted felon.
The first major requirement to become a lawyer is to gain your J.D. at an ABA accredited law school. Naturally, your criminal record will come up when the admissions committee looks over your profile. Don’t even try to hide it – if a law school applicant is a felon, the committee will find out. Of course, as a felon you can’t just apply to law school by submitting a personal statement and the normal application material; you are going to need to explain why you have been convicted of a felony, and why something like that will absolutely never happen again.
Be sure that you explain the circumstances surrounding your arrest and how going through that experience has left you a better person. Don’t try and make the committee feel sorry for you, and don’t try and shrug off the responsibility; own up to your actions, and explain how this aspect of your life has changed you in such a way as to make you a viable, trustworthy candidate for law school. Consider getting involved in some sort of community service to demonstrate your change of character – and not just in the weeks leading up to your law school application.
The next step to becoming a lawyer is to take your state’s bar exam. There are a number of requirements to sit for the bar in each state, but as a convicted felon, you may face a few more stipulations. Many bar associations have a mandated period of time between the time of your conviction and the time you are allowed to take the bar.
In addition, your state’s bar association will closely evaluate your application – and perhaps even more closely, your criminal record. Any crimes which seem to suggest you will be dishonest, unethical, or otherwise not fit for a career in law will be giant red flags. If your crimes suggest that you are untrustworthy, do your best to not only explain, but show the bar association that you have undergone a radical personal change that has resulted in your growth as an ethical individual.
Like the bar association’s evaluation of you prior to taking the bar, you will have to undergo a character and fitness evaluation, which will try and determine your ability to practice law in an ethical and legal manner. As you will probably be accustomed to by now, do your best to assure this committee that you are indeed a new person who has used their criminal history only as motivation to become a better person. Once you pass this final examination, you will have become a licensed attorney.
A couple extra things should be noted. You are going to have to network more than anyone else, and meet and interact with people who will, based on their personal relationship to you, will be able to vouch for your character and write you recommendation letters. Do your best to establish yourself as a positive figure within your community – community service and other philanthropic events are a great way to do this. If applicable, get involved with your church and any city organizations.
People make mistakes, and people change. Just because you’ve made mistakes does not mean that you can’t become a lawyer, it simply means that you may have to try a little harder and overcome steeper mountains. Follow the advice above, and we’re certain that you have a shot at becoming a lawyer as a felon.
Photo credits: Beth910