Can a felon become a lawyer and enjoy a professional career? As you’re no doubt aware, it can be hard to find a good job once you’ve got a felony on your record because most employers run background checks, and many won’t hire felons – even for low-level jobs. So is there any hope if you’ve set your sights on a law career?
Becoming a lawyer takes a lot of work and dedication, and the good news is that it’s certainly possible to attend law school, pass the state bar exam, and find work as a lawyer in most states despite the felony on your record.
Even so, it won’t be easy, and you’ll need to get more detailed information from law school admissions departments and from your state bar association before you can properly evaluate the likelihood that you can become a lawyer with your specific background.
This guide will give you an overview of the main obstacles you could encounter because of your felony. And try to answer the big question; can a convicted felon become a lawyer?
Can A Felon Become A Lawyer in 2023?
Can You Be A Lawyer With A Felony? If you’re planning to become a lawyer, a felony won’t always stand in your way, although different states have varying requirements you need to be aware of.
For example, the Florida Bar will not admit anyone with a felony on their record unless their civil rights have been restored. For a felon serving probation in Florida, the full period of probation must be completed before they’re eligible to apply to the bar.
In Kansas, you need to wait until 5 years have passed since you completed your sentence before you can become an attorney.
In addition to any time limits imposed by the bar in your state, you’ll need to pass a very thorough background check as part of the moral character and fitness exam when you apply to the state bar.
It’s important to know that while most states will allow you to become a lawyer with a past felony on your record, you will lose your ability to practice law if you’re convicted of a felony once you’ve been admitted to the bar.
Related Article: Can A Felon Become A Nurse?
Is It Hard To Get Into Law School With A Felony?
Every law school has its own admissions process and eligibility criteria. On your law school application, you’ll be asked questions relating to your character and fitness. And one of these questions asks about your criminal history.
Some law schools only want to know about charges and convictions within the last 5 years, others will ask if you’ve ever been charged or convicted, and will even ask you to disclose expunged convictions.
A typical criminal background question will ask if you’re currently under indictment and if you’ve ever been:
- Placed on probation
- Given a deferred judgment
If you answer yes to that question, you’ll be asked to give more details about your offense.
- What happened?
- When did it happen?
- What was the outcome?
Keep your answers concise and concentrate on the facts. Law schools ask this question because they want to admit candidates who will be eligible for the state bar.
If the law schools in your state ask about offenses in the last 5 years, you can be fairly certain that the state bar will also be concerned with that period. If law schools want to know your entire history, the state bar will too.
In many states, your law school application will be reviewed when you apply to the state bar, so make sure you’re honest.
Your law school won’t run a background check on you, but the state bar will, and if you didn’t disclose an offense that pops up on your background report, they’ll want to know why you tried to hide it.
Will A Felony Affect Student Loans & Financial Aid?
Can I become a lawyer with a felony and receive financial aid for law school?
Your felony won’t affect your eligibility for a federal student loan, and you should also be able to apply for law school scholarships.
The Law School Admission Council states that the cost of obtaining a law degree is in the region of $150,000.
While federal student loan eligibility doesn’t depend on your credit score, federal loans aren’t usually enough to cover the full amount needed for law school.
You can borrow $20,500 per year in direct, unsubsidized student federal loans. Federal PLUS loans and private student loans are available for the remaining tuition costs, but you need to have good credit to be eligible for those loans.
If your felony resulted in a prison term that left you unable to meet your financial obligations, you could have a poor credit score which puts those other student loans out of reach unless you can find someone with good credit to act as a cosigner for your loan.
How long does bad credit history stay on your file? Your credit report covers the last 7 – 10 years. It will show the level of debt you have, and report your payment history, including late payments, defaults, and collections over the last 7 years.
If you filed for bankruptcy as a result of your felony, a chapter 13 bankruptcy is visible on your report for 7 years, and a chapter 7 bankruptcy is visible for 10 years.
A bad credit report will also cause you problems when you apply to the state bar.
The State Bar Moral Character Examination
The state bar is the licensing body for lawyers. You can’t practice law in a state unless you’ve been licensed by the state bar.
Admittance to the state bar requires more than your law degree and the ability to pass the state bar exam. You also need to pass the moral character exam which determines if you’re fit to practice law.
Each state has its own requirements, but they’re fairly similar.
Your character and fitness examination consists of a thorough investigation into your background and usually includes the following searches.
Court records – A full search of court records for every address you’ve lived at for longer than 6 months.
Criminal Background – A background check will report any charges and convictions on your record. This also includes arrests and minor issues, like traffic stops and citations.
Credit Check and financial history – Your credit report will be checked to make sure you’re current on all of your financial obligations. If you’ve got late payments or delinquencies, you’re unlikely to pass the moral character exam unless you’ve arranged payment plans with your creditors, and have kept up your payments.
The financial check will also look for unpaid civil judgments, and unpaid spousal or child support.
Professional history – The bar contacts your current and former employers to find out about any professional misconduct, and employment discipline or termination on your employment record. The investigator will also look at professional licenses you’ve held and any businesses you’ve owned.
Education – The state bar contacts your law school to obtain a report about you during your time there. They may also request your law school application and your high school and college transcripts.
References – The bar will contact the references you listed on your application.
To find out the exact requirements in your state, search online for “state bar requirements” followed by the state concerned.
Besides gathering all of the above information about your background, the state bar will expect you to prove your moral fitness. Any volunteer work you’ve done, substance abuse programs you’ve completed, or counseling you’ve been through will help with this requirement, as will the passage of time with a clean record since your felony conviction.
Passing the moral fitness examination won’t be easy, and before you apply to law schools, you should check out the likelihood that you’ll be approved by the state bar given your specific offense.
Will Law Firms Hire Felons?
Can you be a lawyer with a felony? Will anyone be willing to hire you?
Once you get through law school and have been admitted to the bar, you’ve got to find a job. And that means going through even more background checks.
Law firms will hire lawyers with criminal backgrounds, but ultimately whether a particular law firm will hire you depends on their hiring policy and the type of offense you committed.
As lawyers themselves, partners in a law firm know how strict the state bar moral character and fitness investigation is, and if you’ve been approved by the bar, then they’re often satisfied that you’ll be a good attorney.
However, you may find that some areas of law are more difficult to practice than others because of your previous felony conviction.
A felony for fraud will make it hard to become a bankruptcy attorney, for example.
Working at a law firm isn’t your only option. Once you’re a licensed lawyer, you can apply for jobs in company legal departments, and for jobs in state and local government.
To Become A Lawyer With A Felony You Must Tell The Truth At Every Stage Of The Process
Once you’ve completed your sentence, it’s natural to want to put your felony behind you. You’re a changed person and you want people to deal with you as you are now. Unfortunately, to become a lawyer, you have to own up to your felony.
You’ll be asked about criminal convictions during your law school application, you’ll undergo a thorough background check during the state bar moral character and fitness investigation, and every law firm you apply to will carry out a background check.
As far as the state bar is concerned, any dishonesty about your past offenses (or about any other aspect of your application) will probably lead to your application being denied, and you can’t practice law without a law license.
The big takeaway from all of this is that you must be honest. Don’t try to hide your past, hoping no one will find out.
Becoming a lawyer with a felony on your record isn’t impossible but it will be more difficult for you, and given the high costs involved, it’s vital that you find out as much as you can about the state bar requirements before you start law school.
Pursuing a professional career in law will provide you with a solid future. While it will be harder for you to succeed with a felony on your record, becoming a lawyer isn’t impossible, and people in your position have graduated from prestigious law schools – including Yale Law School – and gone on to practice law and enjoy successful careers.
Robert Eric (a lover of Cats and Dogs) is the co-founder of HireFelonsJobs. In our search for a better life, after… A platform was created for the purpose of easing the search for ex-convicts.