The Character & Fitness section is a critical component of the law school application.
Anna Ivey, of Anna Ivey Consulting, recently discussed what applicants should know about the section and how applicants should approach the questions.
Ivey recommends that applicants always read the fine print when it comes to this section of the law school application.
“The most frequent mistake made by applicants is not reading the entire question, or seeing the question and just assuming, ‘Oh, I know what they want here,’” Ivey writes Chara.
It’s important, Ivey says, to understand what certain questions are asking.
“Questions among applications vary,” she writes. “Some ask for only criminal ‘convictions,’ or incidents where you are ‘sentenced’ or given ‘probation or deferred adjudication.’ If you were arrested for drinking in public and the case was dismissed when you paid money in court, you were never convicted or sentenced – so you need not disclose that on an application that doesn’t ask about convictions or sentencing.”
Depending on the severity of your record, it is always helpful to understand how it might affect your application.
“Few applicants need to have a legitimate concern about their criminal history,” Ivey writes. “In most cases, the incident in question is so minor that admissions committees will pay little or no attention to it. Traffic violations (other than operating under the influence), noise / party violations, or drinking-in-public tickets, for example, are usually not considered significant by admissions committees. Those are small potatoes, but you still might have to disclose them.”
No matter how serious you think your offense may be, Ivey always recommends that applicants do research and order any paperwork regarding the incident.
“Getting your hands on a copy of the ticket, or criminal docket, or complaint from your case will be extremely helpful when you do apply to a state bar, as these documents are often required as part of your bar application,” she writes. “And in a disciplinary context from college, you are entitled under federal law to see what’s in your official student file.”
DON’T GO OVERBOARD
Disclosures often require written material, such as an “addendum,” which will detail the details and circumstances of your incident.
Ivey says the most common mistakes applicants can make with an addendum is going overboard.
“As a general rule, the more minor and distant the incident, the less is needed,” she writes. “If you stole a candy bar from a general store when you were 11 and received 10 hours of community service, your disclosure should be short and sweet. You don’t need to call yourself a juvenile delinquent. If you sprayed graffiti on a wall in high school, explain what happened and acknowledge the mistake, but don’t spend pages writing a discourse on the meaning of personal property or the fact that you now know the difference between art and graffiti.”
However, if the incident was a more recent one, you may need to spend some time explaining.
“Make sure the details are included – the time and location of the incident if you were eventually charged or arrested or cited, and the outcome,” Ivey writes.
Additionally, experts say, it helps to show how you’ve taken steps to rehabilitate yourself.
“Highlight, for example, your commitment to community service and any other positive social contributions you have made that demonstrate remorse, responsibility and rehabilitation,” Julie Ketover, a contributor at US News, writes. “Show that you’ve taken decisive action to course correct and distance yourself from prior misconduct.”