Anne M. Richard,

Senior Assistant Dean for Admissions
University of Virginia School of Law

"Why is reporting a small violation a big deal?
What happens if an applicant doesn't report something?"

With a B.A. in English and Econ and an M.A. in Econ, all summa cum laude from Boston College, and a J.D. from Yale University, Dean Richard is clearly qualified to answer almost any question. But I asked her to address the issue of honesty on applications for two reasons:

1) Since she was co-director of the Federal Prison Project, a clinical program through which Yale law students undertake representation of prisoners at the Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury, Connecticut, I know a misdemeanor or two doesn't faze her; and

2) Having served as an assistant counsel in the Office of Professional Responsibility of the U.S. Department of Justice, she feels very strongly about professionalism and ethics.

Anne Richard

Dean Richard, why does it matter so much if a student "forgets" to report an underage drinking violation or an IRS dispute?

A student takes his or her first step into the legal profession -- a noble profession governed by a strict code of ethics -- with the submission of law school applications.  One must take seriously the ethical standards by which attorneys are governed from the very start.

In every law school application there are questions seeking information about criminal charges and convictions, disciplinary actions, academic suspensions, etc.  Law schools also may require that applicants update their applications and let them know if subsequent events render any information originally provided false or incomplete.  Applicants must read each law school's application carefully and answer all questions completely and truthfully.  Applicants also must be mindful of the duty to supplement.

In the past I have had clients violate their contracts with me by failing to fully disclose a problem or by misrepresenting a law-related situation. As Dean of Admissions, have you seen a similar trend? And how do you deal with it?

Over the past 10 years, there has been a marked increase in the number of applicants who lie or fail to disclose information in law school applications.  I believe that some applicants are simply sloppy while others intentionally choose to try to hide information that they feel may negatively affect their chances of gaining admission.  In fact, there is nothing that will more hurt one's ability to gain admission to law school and to the practice of law than being less than totally candid on one's law school applications.

We take very seriously dishonesty in applications for admission.  As part of our orientation, new students are required to attend a session on ethics at which they are advised about the ramifications they may face down the road if they failed to disclose or misrepresented information in their law school applications.  These students are given the opportunity during the first week of classes to correct any misrepresentations or omissions. 

All supplements are reviewed by the Dean of Admissions.  If the information provided indicates a misrepresentation or omission that is minor, the Dean of Admissions may simply add the new information to the individual's file and the matter is closed.  However, if the Dean of Admissions determines that the student's misrepresentation or omission was significant, then the matter is referred to the Dean of Students and the Academic Integrity Committee.  The student will face an inquiry and a determination will be made as to whether the student's conduct warrants disciplinary action that may range from a letter of reprimand, to suspension, to expulsion.

What advice would give to applicants to encourage them to fully disclose all law violations and other problems?

Students who fail to "come clean" may face serious issues when it comes time to seek admission to practice law.  Passing the bar examination is only one part of the test for gaining admission to practice law. All state bar associations conduct character and fitness investigations.  As part of the character and fitness investigation, a student typically must produce his or her driving record.  A criminal background check also is conducted.  And character and fitness committees also may review a student's permanent law school file. 

Any inconsistencies, inaccuracies, or failures to disclose may pose serious difficulties.  Moreover, if one's law school learns that a student has been dishonest in his or her application at any point, the law school may impose sanctions that may be as severe as expulsion or revocation of one's law degree. 

The best course for law school applicants is to err on the side of disclosure. That's why we include on our application -- and I invite you to post here:

If you have any doubt concerning how to answer any of the following questions, you should feel free to contact Anne Richard, Senior Assistant Dean for Admissions, at amr8u@virginia.edu or by phone at (434) 243-1456. Any discussion with Dean Richard will be confidential and will not impact the decision of the Admissions Committee. 

There are many students in law schools throughout the country -- as well as practicing attorneys -- who have been disciplined for underage drinking on campus, who were arrested for drunk driving, or who have a couple speeding tickets.  There even are law students and attorneys who have been convicted of felonies.  Law school admissions officers are fellow humans and understand that we all make mistakes.  

Trying to hide one's mistakes is much worse than providing detailed and honest explanations in response to questions on a law school application.  If an applicant has any criminal or disciplinary matters to disclose, he or she exhibits maturity by accepting responsibility, showing remorse and explaining how the negative experience(s) helped him or her to grow. 

Dean Richard has generously offered to allow anyone who has questions about the need to disclose to call her, with complete anonymity, on her direct-dial line: (434) 243-1456.

Thank you, Dean Richard!

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