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Can Felons Become Lawyers?

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As felons know very well, a good lawyer is important in preparing a legal defense once a felony indictment is handed down.

This representation can make the difference between a conviction and being acquitted or negotiating a lesser charge or reduced sentence.  While incarcerated and even after release, it is important for felons to maintain a good relationship with their lawyer.

With this importance of having a good lawyer, what about the question of felons becoming a lawyer.

Is this possible with all of the restrictions felons find that they face moving forward with their lives?

This blog post will cover the question of whether felons can become lawyers.

  • A Success Story
  • Requirements to Become a Lawyer
  • Taking the Bar Exam
  • Encouraging Felons to Become Lawyers


A Success Story

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Recall Greg Mathis, who spent years being locked up physically while his mind remained free and strong.  He put his intellect to work in seeking further education in prison and beyond.

He started off working at McDonald’s and went on to go to law school, graduate, and pass the bar exam, going on to become Judge Mathis with his own TV show.

Looking at his example tells us the answer to the question.  Felons can become lawyers.

It isn’t easy, but anything worth achieving takes dedication and hard work.  He faced those challenges and succeeded.  Let’s look closer at the process felons must go through to become a lawyer.

Requirements to Become a Lawyer

In order to apply to most law schools in the U.S. applicants must have graduated from college.  There are a few law schools that do not have that requirement.

The college diploma does not have to be achieved prior to incarceration.  Felons can attain a college degree while incarcerated, one which can be accepted by most law schools.

Attending college and law school is quite expensive.  As a previous blog post indicated, felons are able to get a loan, including a loan for education.

While there are restrictions on qualifying for a federal student loan, there are other avenues open to get the money needed for this.

When applying to law school, each has its own criteria for admission.  However, it is a question on each school’s application if there is a felony conviction.

A background and credit check will be conducted.  For any conviction, especially felonies, felons must explain the circumstances of their criminal conviction and demonstrate that it will not harm their ability to function as an attorney.

Taking the Bar Exam

In seeking a law school, it is important that it be one accredited by the American Bar Association.  Felons must complete the requirements for the juris doctor degree of an ABA approved school.

In choosing a school, it may be important for felons to consider what state they might want to practice in.  This is because not all states will allow felons to be admitted to the bar.

Florida will not permit felons to take the bar exam.

In reaching this decision about which state to practice in, it is recommended to consult the Comprehensive Guide to Bar Admission, which can be found on the website of the National Conference of Bar Examiners.  This outlines the rules for taking the bar exam in each state.

Once this is accomplished, felons will apply for the bar exam in the state in which they wish to practice.

Having attended law school in one particular state can be advantageous to passing that state’s bar exam.

The application will require completing a character and fitness application.  It asks for detailed background information, including information about a criminal history.

It will be essential to be honest and disclose all relevant information.  To not do so will result in a denial of the application.

The bar is primarily concerned with offenses involving dishonesty or a financial crime.

In order to be licensed in a state, certain requirements must be met, varying from one state to the next.  Generally felons desiring to be licensed must be of good moral character, be completely rehabilitated, and be a member in good standing in their community.

Some states require at least five years to have passed since the end of a felony sentence.  Other states have only the morals, character, and fitness criteria.

The process to obtain approval for licensing is made easier if felons’ criminal records have been expunged or if they have received a pardon for their crime.   In most states the state supreme court and the state bar association establish the rules and conduct the review for licensing.  Typically, states do not want candidates for licensing who have what is considered poor financial capability, as it may set them up to take money as favors.

One criteria used in licensing decisions are evaluating candidates’ moral turpitude, which is basically a measure of one’s tendency to lie, cheat, and steal.

A state review board called the “Character and Fitness” review board is responsible for evaluating each candidate on these dimensions.  This process looks very critically at felons’ background with very little leniency being shown.

However, it is not impossible for felons to become a lawyer.  It takes determination and perseverance to reach this goal.  Remember Greg Mathis and many others before and after him who accomplished this goal.

Supporting Felons Becoming Lawyers

In order to achieve this goal, felons need the support of family and loved ones to encourage them to do whatever it takes to become a lawyer, if that is important to them.

Reaching this lofty goal will do wonders for their morale and will help convince themselves as well as family and friends that they are being successful in their efforts to lead an honest and honorable life.  Be there to support them in their efforts.

What do you think about this blog post?  Are you or someone you know in the situation of trying to become a lawyer with a felony?  What has it been like for them, and how did they achieve success?  Please tell us in the comments below.

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