can a felon become a lawyer

Can you be a lawyer if you have a criminal record?

Can a Felon Become a Lawyer? Most felons have given up on their dream of becoming a lawyer. Of course, it’s logical to think one who’s had a rough time with the law may not fit to interpret – and defend – the same laws they violated.

So, back to the question; Can you become a lawyer with a felony in your record?

Does this describe you?

If, then while your thoughts are normal, you’re not entirely correct. Fact is, felons can become lawyers – and the process is not as tough as it seems.  Back to the question…

Can a Felon Become a Lawyer?

Can a convicted felon become a lawyer? Simply, yes! Convicts can become licensed legal practitioners – in selected states, though. See state-by-state admission requirement to law schools across the U.S.

I wouldn’t be so wrong to say we all have our share of mistakes – and regrets. Perhaps we ignorantly made some terrible decisions at one point in our lives.

While we may not all have felony convictions, a significant number have had some different levels of illegality on their records. So, don’t feel alone – we all have our stories.

If you have a criminal record, can you become a lawyer?

can a felon become a lawyer

Yes, you can. Even with your felony records, don’t write off your dream of becoming an attorney. Interestingly, most jurisdictions in the US are lenient about criminal backgrounds.

However, if becoming an attorney is a goal you wish to achieve, then you must be ready to set your criminal records straight. Leaving the past behind and striving to remain right with the law will get you many steps closer to achieving your dream.

For some states, a specific time may pass before candidates are deemed qualified. For others, you may need to show proof of change – and complete rehabilitation. However, in all your interactions, avoid one thing – any form of dishonesty.

Be Honest

Here’s the keyword – Disclose. Yes, don’t try to conceal your character issues – whether past or present.

The need for honesty can never be overemphasized. Regardless of your jurisdiction, you will have to undergo a moral character assessment. The assessment process entails submission of your documented history – education, criminal background, and former addresses, inclusive. As a felon, the state and FBI have your rap sheet.

If you have a felony on your records – anything outside moving violations – you would have to prove that you are of a good moral character – currently.

If – somewhere along the line – your state discovers you’re concealing something in your past, or present, that may be the end of your lawyer’s dream. Worse still, once denied, it automatically stays on your record. So, even when you apply in another state, your rejection shows up.


You likely fear your not-good-enough past. Perhaps you think the bar will reject your application if you disclose your records. This could cause a strong inclination to deny your conviction – Don’t. Open up on all ALL your convictions – ALL!

The biggest threat to your moral character test is dishonesty – it spells the end of your professional pursuit.

As you go through the moral character process, It’s natural to feel somewhat locked up about your misdeeds – confessions on your ugly past may not always come out seamlessly. But regardless of the temptation to hold back, the fact is unchanging – sincerity will boost your chances of scaling through the moral character test; as dishonesty will dampen your chances.

Law School Education

law school education

Here’s a final take. Most law schools have a common policy – that admission into school will not be ruined by a felony conviction.

Remember, the policies differ across states.

Noteworthy – While a law school education is required in some states, it is not in others.

Attending law school and scaling through the bar is a convenient way of getting certified as a lawyer. Your focus, therefore, should be on getting admitted into an institution accredited by ABA. This will help you reduce potential future issues with some jurisdictions regarding your educational qualification.

Again, Be Honest

There’s no such thing as over-flogging the need for honesty. The keywords for passing the moral character test when applying to a state bar are full disclosure and honesty.

You may want to consult and discuss with an attorney – with related experience – to coach you. Perhaps these experts have handled similar cases in the past. Follow their lead.

Case Studies of Felons who became Lawyers

1. Greg Mathis

All through his time, although physically locked up, his mind was free. Burned with determination and resilience at achieving his dreams – he’d always dreamt of going higher in his education even during incarceration.

After doing time, Mathis picked up a job at McDonald’s and soon got admitted into law school. He did well through law school, and soon, the former convict became Judge Mathis. Incredible story, right?

2. Reginald Dwayne Betts

After an unending delay – and after The New York Times’s protest publication – Reginald Betts was finally called to bar.

At 16, Betts got convicted for car hi-jacking. He spent seven years in prison – after a year in solitary. Following his time, Betts published two poetry books. Earned his BA, trailed by an MFA. Rose to Harvard’s Radcliffe and fellow finished from Yale Law School. He got a job in the office of the public defender in New Haven where he served a year.

The regulatory board had claimed Bett’s denial was due to his background history, which shows some lack of trustworthiness, reliability, diligence, and honesty.

However, Bett’s admission came in the wake of the Times’ article. Counting from the conviction in his teenage days to his final call to Connecticut bar, gulped 18 years – and a New York Times publication.

So, no doubts, felons stand a chance of becoming licensed lawyers! However, as with Bett and Mathis’s case, it may come with a lot of challenges.

But if Betts and Mathis could do it, why can’t you?

This pretty much answers the “Can a Felon Become a Lawyer?” question.

Now we have the answer – yes, they can!

Truth be told – it’s not going to be a walk in the park. Far from it. Still, not as complicated as you might have thought – or still think. All you need is dedication, hard work – and of course, honesty.

Think about it – If Judge Mathis and Reginald Betts could go through all it takes to get licensed, you too can.

What Does it Require to Become a Lawyer?

In most law schools, applicants must be – in the least – a college graduate. This is, however, not required in some schools.

The college diploma may not necessarily be obtained before your conviction. You can obtain a degree while in prison. This is widely acceptable among law schools.

It may be a lot challenging – mostly financially – to attend college and law school. However, felons can key into government-provided loans to cushion the financial effect.

Although there are criteria for financial aid qualification, non-eligible students can seek other means to fund their education.

Before you apply to a law school, you need to understand that each institution has its distinctive admission criteria. These criteria are widely used to screen applicants with felony records.

The procedure may involve a credit and background check. Regardless of the convictions – particularly for felonies – offenders must narrate the circumstances surrounding their crime and prove – beyond any reasonable doubt – that the indictment will not interfere with their functions and performance on their duty as a lawyer.

The Bar Exam

As you move to register in a law school, ensure the institution is American Bar Association-accredited. Ex-convicts must satisfy demands for the Juris doctorate of a school recognized by ABA.

When selecting schools, the particular state you wish to practice in should be considered. This is particular for felons, as some states – e.g., Florida – do not accept persons with felonies in their bar.

When deciding a state to practice, you may want to check out the Comprehensive Guide to Bar admission. This guide states bar exam rules and regulations as applicable in each state. After selecting a state, you wish to practice, apply for the exam in the same state.

Typically, applicants are required to complete a character and fitness form. Items on the form include detailed criminal history – and other background information.

Here – again – honesty and disclosure are keywords. Tell all you know about your history. Holding back any info could cause a rejection of your application.

To become a licensed attorney in a State, some provisions must be met. These requirements, however, vary across states.

Typically, felons who seek to be certified lawyers must uphold good morality, complete their rehabilitation program, and have an untainted reputation within their community.

In some states, the convict must have spent at least five years following the felony sentence. For some other states, fitness, character, and moral criteria qualify applicants.

License approval becomes easier if applicants have been pardoned or have their records expunged. Across many jurisdictions, the states’ bar association and their supreme courts make the licensing rules and reviews.

States try to avoid licensing candidates with a low financial profile. It is assumed that the need for money could weaken practitioners’ resistance to accepting bribes – and other financial inducements.

The character and Fitness board is charged with the evaluation of each applicant on these grounds. This review board does an in-depth check on the candidate’s background – without leniency.

The point – felons can become lawyers! Be inspired by stories of those who have done it before you – Greg Mathis, among others. The goal can be accomplished – with perseverance and determination.

Supporting Aspiring Felons

The fact is, felons would find it even more difficult to attain this dream if left to sort it out themselves. They need someone to give them hope. To constantly inspire them to try harder – never to give up. They need full support from loved ones and family – from you.

The truth remains – felons have been through a lot already. And if there’s anyone that understands their travails well enough, that should be family and friends.

Remember – attaining this lofty height, would help them erase the past, and lead a fulfilled and honorable life.

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