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I was denied admission to the California Bar because of a conviction 10 years ago. I have a lot of law school debt and don’t know what to do now. Where do I go from here?
Nobody is perfect. We all make mistakes throughout our lives – especially when we are young. The severity of these mistakes varies, as does the punishment. Sometimes the lapse in judgment is a blip on the radar. Other times it can haunt forever. Your mistake resulted in a criminal conviction that has impacted your current viability for admission to the California Bar. And while you’ve worked hard to demonstrate that you’ve changed, it is simply not enough of a faded memory to satisfy the California Rules of Good Moral Character and Professional Conduct.
I’m sure you are feeling frustrated and even perhaps resentful about your situation. You’ve gone through the trials and tribulations of law school and have reached a locked door because of your teenage foolishness. So where do you go from here? While your situation may feel disheartening, you do have options. So chin up and get ready to get to work. Below are a few options:
Appeal The Decision.
If you are unhappy with the Committee of Bar Examiners of the State Bar of California decision to deny your admission, you have the legal right to appeal it and request a hearing before the State Bar Court. If you choose this path, you’d better be prepared to present an effective case as to why you possess the good moral character to be an attorney in California. The Cal Bar website provide the list of categories it considers such as your age when crime occurred, mitigating factors, substance abuse, recommendations from employers, fiscal responsibility, unblemished record and other areas to demonstrate your reform. In addition, there are attorneys that can assist with your appeal. So look in to this professional guidance – as it could be worth the investment.
Seek Bar Admission in Another State.
If you are determined to practicing law, seek admission to and begin your legal career in another state. State bar admission requirements differ from state to state and it is possible that your case will present stronger in other jurisdictions. If you are admitted and have some legal practice under your belt, revisiting California’s admission may be easier. This path will require you to sit for another bar exam, but if you want options this one will be open to you.
Pursue a Non-Legal Career.
You don’t need to be a member of the California Bar for every profession in the professional world. So identify other areas of interest that are appealing and can also pay the bills. There are several that can keep you tethered to the law in some way as well. A few suggestions include: contracts manager, compliance professional, legal operations, sales, marketing, HR, real estate agent – or any entry level job in a tech company catering to lawyers/law firms/in house legal departments.
In your quest for admission to the California Bar, your prior conviction has created a material challenge. While this can be demoralizing, all is not lost and career options are available. If you truly have changed as a person – and you truly want to practice law, you will find the path to reach your goal. It may not be tomorrow, but with perseverance and fortitude you can prevail. If you ultimately conclude that the hurdles are too high and/or other professional directions are more appealing you’ll have options to pursue outside of the law. So chin up…and get ready to take control of your career in 2017.
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Assuming that the conviction was disclosed in your application and that it does not involve a crime of moral turpitude, then you should appeal. If you did not disclose the conviction, you have two problems, the conviction and the failure to disclose. If you disclosed, but it was a crime of moral turpitude, then it becomes very fact specific. A past conviction for embezzlement, for instance, is likely fatal in all jurisdictions. A single DUI can likely be overcome, as noted above and as I saw by a friend of mine in law school.
Julie Brush, Founder, The Lawyer Whisperer
I had a friend in law school who was denied admission to CA bar because of a DUI conviction back when he was in undergrad. He had many of us write him character letters to help in his appeal and it worked -- he was ultimately granted admission. I would try this before completely giving up!
Definitely consider taking the bar in another state (even if you're not moving there). I've been practicing for over 10 years and am just now going through the California bar process. It's rough. You've worked hard to get where you are today so keep your chin up and your options open.