Handle Disclosure on Law School Applications With Care

Carefully read all question details when asked to disclose criminal history on law school applications.

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Law schools have different criminal disclosure requirements, so compare your personal documentation with what each question asks.
Law schools have different criminal disclosure requirements, so compare your personal documentation with what each question asks.

The so-called "disclosure question" found on your law school applications may seem simple enough, but all applicants should approach this question carefully. This is the section where law schools ask you to disclose criminal history.

But what classifies as criminal? Just because you have never robbed a bank does not mean you have nothing to disclose. Many students ask questions like "What if I've gotten a speeding ticket?" or "What about noise violations, do they count?" 

Before you answer the disclosure question on your law school applications, review the tips below to ensure that you respond accurately. These tips should not be taken as legal advice. 

Inaccurate representation could result not only in denial from law school right now, but could prevent you from being admitted to the bar or further legal troubles in the future, which is why it is imperative that this question be taken seriously. 

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1. Know your own criminal history: "Criminal" may seem like such a strong word that you do not associate it with your own activities. If you hosted a party in college and a neighbor called the police to complain about the noise, that probably doesn't feel very criminal to you. 

Nonetheless, you should obtain all documentation possible on the incident so you can compare it with the question. You may know that you paid a fine for the disturbance, but do you know how it is represented on your record? Is it even on your record? 

Get all the information you can to make an informed decision about whether to disclose something. If you are still uncertain, it is acceptable to seek legal counsel to determine what the question is asking and how your own history fits in. It is better to be cautious and thorough now than have this come back to bite you later. 

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2. Read the question: It is easy to see a bunch of legalese and just sign the document without reading it in its entirety. Such practices, however, have gotten a lot of people into sticky situations. Read through the entire disclosure question more than once to make sure you provide exactly what law schools are seeking. 

Disclosure questions are not all the same. Different law schools ask for different information. Some schools want every detail, from the speeding ticket you got in high school to informal misconduct. 

In other cases it depends what happened after the incident. Did you get a ticket? Were you convicted or sentenced? Has your record been expunged, and if so, do you still need to disclose? 

Because the question differs across law schools, there is no canned response for what you should disclose and what can be omitted. It all goes back to the question. Compare what you have researched on your own activities with the question for each law school to determine if you need to disclose any incidents. 

[Learn how to handle a law school application mistake.] 

3. If you still aren't sure, disclose: If there is anything you are still on the fence about after thoroughly reviewing the question and your background, you should err on the side of caution and disclose it on your application. 

The truth is that law schools are extremely unlikely to care if you have a minor traffic violation on your record. If you disclose such an offense, you will not harm your admissions odds. 

However, if you choose to omit something in your past that was covered under the disclosure question, you may be denied admission. If you omit something that is not discovered by the law school, even if you mistakenly believed it was not relevant to the question, it could present an issue in being admitted to the bar. 

State boards of admissions to the bar require everyone to submit a thorough character and fitness questionnaire, and they have access to your law school application. If details do not match up, you may not be admitted to the bar and could even have your law degree – on which you may have spent three years and significant tuition – withdrawn. 

This is why when working with clients at Stratus Prep, I almost always advise students to disclose minor violations so they do not encounter any surprises down the line. However, if you are uncertain about how to answer the disclosure question on your applications, seek legal counsel. 

What did you disclose on your law school applications? Let me know in the comments, email me or contact me via Twitter at @StratusPrep.