My partner wants to study law and do a law degree but has a extensive criminal record.

  1. Is it possible to become a lawyer if you have a record?

  2. If they decide to go through with it, would they be treated differently in the law community?

  • 1
    Which jurisdiction?
    – chirlu
    Nov 5 '17 at 23:22

Is it possible to become a lawyer if you have a record?

Yes. But, it is also possible to refuse to admit someone to the practice of law based upon a criminal record. The decision is made by a "character and fitness" committee of a state's bar admission system after someone has finished law school and passed the academic part of the bar exam. If one state doesn't accept someone based upon a criminal record, another state could make a different decision.

Your partner might be well advised to confer with experts on the issue to determine the likelihood that their particular criminal record would be a problem before making this huge investment of time and money and effort.

If they decide to go through with it, would they be treated differently in the law community?

Probably not. Nothing advertises to the legal community that someone has or does not have a criminal record. You are either admitted to the bar, or you are not. Your character and fitness application is private. If somebody finds out, that could impact how the person who finds out acts, just as it could in any other pursuit. But, someone would not be justified in treating a lawyer with a criminal record differently, for example, in case management issues or discovery plans, than someone without a criminal records, except in cases where national security clearances are required (a tiny subset of legal practice).


In order to become a lawyer, one must 1) graduate from a law school, and 2) pass the state bar exam. But any prospective lawyer must also pass some form of a character and fitness requirement, either before or during law school, the bar exam, or admittance to the bar, depending on state jurisdiction.

This article from The American Bar Association is a good outline of what might be considered in terms of being fit to practice law:

Each year more than a few law grads are devastated to learn that for reasons having nothing to do with the bar exam they will not be permitted to practice law. Character, not competence, is the issue.... Every jurisdiction requires bar applicants to meet the burden of showing they are of good moral character and otherwise fit to practice law.... The top four areas of concern for most bar examiners are existence of a criminal record, untreated mental illness and substance abuse, lack of candor, and financial irresponsibility. Professionalism: What Does it Take to Satisfy Character and Fitness Requirements?

From an article about that character and fitness screening process, by The American Bar Association:

Many non-lawyers don’t know that the bar admission process requires new lawyers to pass a character and fitness test before they can practice law and to adhere to high professional standards once admitted. In theory, the character and fitness requirement protects the public from individuals whose past conduct shows they will not be scrupulous lawyers. It’s also intended to protect the legal profession’s reputation. The Other Bar Hurdle: the Character and Fitness Requirement - ABA for Law Students

The requirements the bar exam are different according to each state. Take a look at the requirements of the bar exam in your state. They will offer information as to what could be expected in terms of an applicant with a criminal history and what he/she will need to do.

If they decide to go through with it, would they be treated differently in the law community?

It's possible.

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