Can Undergrad Hijinks Derail Your Legal Career?

4 tips for overcoming your wild and crazy younger days

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Has this question kept you up at night? “I have a great undergraduate GPA and LSAT score, but I just learned you have to disclose undergraduate disciplinary actions on your law school applications. I was caught doing [fill in the blank], but I had no idea it might impact my law school admissions. Is this a huge problem?”​

The answer, as with many things in the legal profession, is it depends on many things.

Certainly, not having disclosable undergrad hijinks on your application is best, but, if you did occasionally exercise some questionable judgment in your younger days, it doesn’t have to derail your legal career. After all, even convicted murders sometimes go to law school. Here are some tips regarding undergrad hijinks.

Do Not Lie

As tempting as it may be, never lie on your law school applications. Not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because you’ll be asked about much of this stuff again when you apply for admission to the bar after you pass the bar exam. Far worse than having some questionable items on your law school application is not having them on there. If the board of bar examiners finds out that you lied on your law school application (and they likely will ask for copies), and that you were consequently admitted to law school on false pretenses, things aren’t likely to end well.

Imagine you paid for three years of law school and suffered through classes and the bar exam, only to find out the bar won’t admit you for lying on your initial application. Not pretty, right? Just fess up in advance and save yourself the trouble. 

Take Responsibility

If there’s one thing lawyers hate, it’s whining.

If you end up disclosing disciplinary actions on your law school application, it’s critical to take responsibility for the situation and write an addendum explaining the situation. Focus on what you learned, not on how unfair it was that you got caught! For example, “When I was 19, I made a very bad decision and drove home after drinking one beer at a party. I was stopped at a police checkpoint and cited for a DUI. In the ensuing months, when I volunteered at Mothers Against Drunk Driving and attended a weekly alcohol abuse prevention program, I realized how dangerous and stupid my actions were. Since then, I’ve been fully committed to a sober lifestyle and have continued my M.A.D.D. volunteer work on a weekly basis.” Far better than arguing, “Hey, it was only one beer! I wasn’t even buzzed.” 

Don’t Make It into a Bigger Deal than It Needs to Be

On the flip side, don’t make whatever you need to disclose into a bigger deal than it needs to be. As with any law school addendum, keep it short, sweet, and to the point. Going on for two pages about all the inspirational stories you heard in AA and how working with M.A.D.D. motivated you to become a prosecutor is overkill. Keep it to a factual paragraph or two max.


Make Sure This Questionable Behavior Is Really in the Past

Particularly if your indiscretion involved some sort of substance abuse, violence, or other illegal behavior, your case that this was an aberrant one-off is a lot stronger if you haven’t recently been arrested or sent to rehab! If you haven’t actually cleaned up your act, this probably isn’t the best time to apply to law school. Schools (and the bar) are willing to forgive a lot, but do want to be assured that they’re not admitting a future Intervention participant. Make sure you’re really on the straight-and-narrow before you sign up for the stress of law school!