Could a potential attorney be admitted to the bar if they have a criminal conviction?

Can someone with a criminal conviction be admitted to the bar in any US state? I’d think minor traffic infractions would be fine, but probably no misdemeanors or felony convictions.

No substantive answer – there is an ethics element to qualifying to the bar that takes such things into consideration.

However, it should be noted that traffic infractions and petty offenses are not “crimes” in the official definition – the term “crime” being restricted to treason, felonies, and misdemeanors. Hence speeding tickets and stuff reduced to disorderly conduct would probably not be bars to admission to the bar. (Pun not intentional.)

Depends on the crime, and on the jurisdiction. However, the universal, ironclad rule for bar applicants regardless of crime or jurisdiction is: Always, always, always disclose your criminal misdeeds. (Or any other misdeeds, for that matter). The bar examiners are looking, above all else, for indications of dishonesty - failure to disclose will very often sink you, while disclosure at least gives you a chance to convince the examiners that you’ve become a better person since the time you made your error in judgment.

I personally know a woman who was convicted of DUI, disclosed it, and was successfully admitted to the Massachusetts bar. On the other hand, I imagine that a conviction for embezzlement would make things rather difficult in most jurisdictions.

“Moral turpitude” is the phrase that pays answering this question. :wink:

Well, obviously – how could you be a lawyer without it?

We both know it was. :wink: :smiley:

One person who had been convicted of a felony was admitted to the CA bar a couple years ago. The crime was politically related however, some sort of protest action.

Stealing, lying, perjuring, embezzling, forging, and fraud are the bonus round. They count double against your admission to the bar. Like double secret probation. Beating people up and kicking their dog is so very junior league compared to the aforementioned.

*note the facetiousness here, especially regarding the factual assertions of what conduct is weighed in which way

This has to be the best response I’ve yet seen on SDMB.

David Fine, one of the participants in the bombing of Sterling Hall on the University of Wisconsin campus in August 1970, passed the bar exam in Oregon after serving time in jail for his role in the conspiracy.

The Oregon Bar, however, backed by the Oregon Supreme Court in 1987 refused to admit him to membership.

Don’t some prisoners become lawyers while in prison? Or is this a movie thing?

Also, is there a difference between “becoming a lawyer” and “being admitted to the bar”?

Anyone can study the law. Anyone can hold themselves out as someone who is a law professional (a lawyer). Only someone who has been “admitted to the bar” can actually practice law in the state, or before the federal bench.

Thus, in California where I was admitted, I went to law school for three years. Arguably, this made me a lawyer. After that, I took the bar exam and passed. Having already submitted my application, in which I let the state know everything important about me, especially about my moral character, and having passed their exam, the California bar association admitted me to membership, which in that state, is what is needed to legally practice law.

Some years ago, working for a New York State agency which had a counsel on retainer who had a steep hourly charge, my immediate boss and I had occasion to acquaint ourselves with the distinction between “legal research” and “practicing law” – since our agency was charged with giving technical assistance, including in particular “how to” write-ups on complying with NYS’s intricate regulatory systems, for small part-time local government officials.

[li]Any clown can give you his opinion about the law for free – and it’s probably worth exactly what you pay for it.[/li][li]Legal research consists in determining what the law says, and in rephrasing it in a manner that may be easier to follow. (E.g., if following legally prescribed procedure X means you need to comply with statute Y first, you can list them in that order.) In the course of this, you MUST only restate what the law says must be done – avoiding carefully telling the person what he or she ought to do.[/li][li]Practicing law means, for renumeration, giving people legal advice. And it is substantially more complex than “look it up and tell him what he needs to do.” (It would be prudent to let a lawyer explain why this is so.)[/li][/ul]

It really depends on a host of factors, most of them subjective. The type of crime, the time that has passed, and what the bar decides.

I had a friend who passed the character and fitness in California despite having had a DUI and drug possession conviction on his record from five years prior. He disclosed everything and they didn’t give him any grief.

Then again, another guy I know was rejected by the Virginia State Bar for a DUI from the previous year.

A guy in Arizona who did time for murder went to law school and graduated. Last I heard he was fighting to be a lawyer, not sure what happened to him.

I have a close friend who had DUI and Public Intoxication convictions who was admitted. Sworn in right next to me. He had to interview with a member of the Bar’s Character and Fitness Committee, but they excused his youthful indiscretion.

Quite so. In Ohio, a criminal conviction is not automatically disqualifying, but you’d better believe that someone with a criminal conviction in his or her past is going to get a very careful looking-over.

Our Supreme Court has the last word, and may accept or reject the advice of its committee on admission to the bar and local advisory panels. All of these decisions are a matter of public record and are reported, with names, in the state bar journal. Overall, the court tends to take a “better safe than sorry” approach. When in doubt, it will deny admission. Sometimes the court will kick the case down the road a few years, inviting the person to apply again and to then provide further (or more persuasive) proof of suitability to practice law. That’s as it should be, IMHO. A bad lawyer can screw up the lives of lots of people.

And once admitted to the bar in Ohio, a felony conviction will automatically lead to disbarment.

There’s a state by state survey in this pdf:

So … since IANAL … if someone for whatever reason thinks I could give them some useful legal advice and I said “give me $100 and I’ll tell you” and they’re stupid enough to do so … have I broken the law?

Yes, you could have a (noncriminal) complaint brought against you for unauthorized practice of law.