Would a prisoner be allowed to practice law and represent other inmates in court, and shown in For Life (2020)?

According to the story, when he got to prison, he went to work for the paralegal association, representing inmates in the internal cases, inside prison. That got him unlimited access to the library. From there, college and law degrees online. Then he took the bar, which is the only state where you can sit for the bar exam with a degree from a non-accredited law school. Then, he applied to have his license accepted reciprocally in . Some bigwig sponsored him for the bar.

  • As someone who hasn't seen the movie, should we assume the prisoner is (or becomes) a licensed attorney?
    – Ryan M
    Commented Feb 23, 2021 at 3:55
  • @RyanM Yes, while in prison.
    – MWB
    Commented Feb 23, 2021 at 3:56
  • My guess would be "no" because they wouldn't be allowed to leave prison to go to court. Although maybe they could do it under work release?
    – Ryan M
    Commented Feb 23, 2021 at 3:57
  • The bigger problem is that most prisoners wouldn't be admitted into the Bar. Maybe if he was convicted of a misdemeanor. Commented Feb 23, 2021 at 4:13
  • @IllusiveBrian Please see the edit.
    – MWB
    Commented Feb 23, 2021 at 5:58

4 Answers 4



There are two questions presented.

The first is whether someone who is in prison for a felony may be admitted to the practice of law. There is not a categorical prohibition on doing so. Instead, a character and fitness committee in each state to which an applicant seeks admission (even if it is a reciprocal admission) considers an applicant on a case by case basis.

Usually, people with a felony conviction that is being served or is recent are not admitted to the practice of law, but it is not a blanket prohibition, so that could happen, although it would be highly unusual.

The second question is whether someone admitted to the practice of law in good standing who is incarcerated in prison would be allowed to do so by prison officials.

The work the inmates are allowed to do is largely in the discretion of the prison warden at a particular institution. It isn't inconceivable that a prison warden could allow an inmate to do this subject to significant limitations on scope of practice, but again, it would be highly unusual.

Some factors that might encourage a prison warden to allow it would be that: (1) the state has to pay another lawyer to represent inmates in some kinds of cases if the fellow inmate does not at greater expense per hour to the state, (2) it might promote rehabilitation and garner good press, and (3) the prison warden might reasonably guess that an inmate represented by a fellow inmate is less likely to prevail on the merits than an inmate represented by another lawyer and might prefer that outcome.

The leading treatise on the subject of lawyering by inmates, with and without full or limited admission to the practice of law, is the Jailhouse Lawyer's Manual.



Prisoners in the US are virtually never permitted to have any job other than ones supplied by the prison.

It doesn't matter if you're qualified to be a lawyer. You can't just leave prison as needed to do a job (including law).


I'd imagine that this is unclear in theory, but in practice the answer will be no. How is the prisoner supposed to leave the prison when he won't get a Release on Temporary Licence to do so? By absconding or escaping? That would be unlawful and so the answer must be no.



In most places in the world, you have to be registered as a lawyer to represent others. Also, in most places conviction of a serious crime/felony means you can't be a registered lawyer.

  • I edited the Q to specify the jurisdiction. Not sure if it was a federal or state prison though.
    – MWB
    Commented Feb 23, 2021 at 5:56
  • 2
    This isn't true in the United States, where there is an absolute ban on felons becoming lawyers in a grand total of three US states.
    – Ryan M
    Commented Feb 23, 2021 at 6:47
  • However, all bar membership is usually suspended while in prison.
    – Trish
    Commented Feb 23, 2021 at 10:47

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