College of Law

Character and Fitness in the Admissions Process

Applicants for admission must answer specific and detailed questions about disciplinary or criminal matters as part of the law school application process. Your responses have important implications, not just for your admission to law school, but for your admission to the bar of the state in which you will be licensed to practice. The University of Tennessee’s character and fitness questions, process, and requirements for documentation may differ from those of other universities, just as requirements for disclosure may vary state by state. Law schools require applicants for admission to be completely honest in responding to questions on the application concerning past conduct. Failure to provide complete and truthful answers to these questions may cause a delay in processing the application for admission or even revocation of an offer of admission.

After you are admitted to law school, you will be obligated to update information about matters disclosed in the application process while you are enrolled. Before a license to practice law in a state is granted, a law school graduate will take and pass a bar examination, undergo character and fitness review, and meet other requirements for admission to the bar in any U.S. jurisdiction. Applicants for admission are encouraged to learn the requirements for any jurisdiction in which they intend to seek admission. You can contact the jurisdiction to obtain advice relative to character and fitness review, substance abuse or dependency concerns, or any requirements that could be made of you to disclose financial or debt issues. Contact information for these agencies is available through the National Conference of Bar Examiners. Also, refer to the Tennessee Board of Law Examiners.

The University of Tennessee encourages applicants who respond affirmatively to character and fitness questions to provide court documents and other explanatory materials with their application for admission. Good record keeping and complete disclosure practices will expedite both the law school admissions and the bar application processes. Law students should maintain all records of disciplinary actions at any educational institution and any instances in which they were arrested, taken into custody, or accused, formally or informally, of a violation of the law. Include instances that have been expunged by a court order and juvenile offenses, whether or not the records are sealed.

If you must answer “yes” to any character and fitness issues, proper documentation includes a detailed explanation (including the dates, locations, and nature of the charges), the disposition of the case, and any sanctions imposed. You may be asked to disclose incidents even if the charges were dismissed, you were acquitted or found ‘not guilty’, adjudication was withheld, a conviction was reversed, set aside, or vacated, the record was sealed or expunged, or you were involved in a pre-trial intervention program. Keep a record of any traffic violations, even if you consider them to be minor, or a law school exempts traffic violations from their inquiry.

Failure to disclose past conduct has significant consequences, and those consequences could be more serious than the conduct itself. Applicants who properly acknowledge errors in judgment or mistakes are advised to accept responsibility for them, and provide some reasonable basis for those who are evaluating their candidacy to believe that the mistake will not be repeated. The fundamental rule to guide you in this area is: Disclose. No matter what your past holds, if you disclose the facts, you can explain them and move forward. Failure to disclose, which will inevitably be discovered at some point in this or future processes, may render you ineligible to practice law.

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