Honesty and integrity are absolutely essential to the success as an attorney, and are required by the Rules of Professional Conduct that govern attorney ethics. Therefore, law schools and boards of bar examiners want to ensure that all law school graduates and bar applicants have the requisite character and fitness to practice law. This requires honesty in the form of accurate representations, and candor, which means that all relevant information must be disclosed.
The application to the Widener University School of Law requests information bearing on character and fitness, and asks whether the applicant has:
1. received an academic warning, been placed on probation, disciplined, suspended, or dismissed from any learning institution for any reason;
2. been court-martialed; or
3. been arrested, given a written warning, taken into custody or accused formally or informally of the violation of a law for any offense other than a minor traffic violation? You must include any instance of driving under the influence and offenses which have been expunged or occurred while a juvenile, including disorderly persons’ offenses. For disclosure purposes, a “minor traffic violation” is one that does not require a court appearance. If a court appearance was required, the matter should be disclosed and documented.
These categories are extremely broad, and include many offenses some would deem “minor,” such as alcohol-related offenses in college, citations for public alcohol consumption, and accusations of dishonesty by employers, even if no formal charges were filed. Also, even if an arrest, charge, or conviction has been expunged, it must be disclosed. There are no exceptions based on the perceived insignificance of the incident, your age when it occurred, or contrary advice you may have received from an attorney.
Amending Your Application
If you failed to disclose relevant information during the application process, you may amend your application by submitting a letter to the Office of Student Affairs fully describing the incident(s), with relevant documentation. The documentation should include summonses, court orders, docket entries, driving records, student records, and the like. If documentation is not available, you must identify and contact the relevant authority, and provide the date of contact, name and position of person with whom you spoke, and that person’s phone number. A letter from an attorney who represented you might be appropriate in some cases if the incident is serious enough and documentation is not available. Letters from educational institutions can also be appropriate.
Instructions and character and fitness acknowledgment forms are available in the Office of Student Affairs. If you have questions about the amendment process, contact the Office of Student Affairs at (302) 477-2142.
Continuing Obligation to Disclose
If incidents subject to disclosure occur after your application was submitted, or during law school, you must disclose them immediately. Do not wait until the matter is resolved, because by then you might be near graduation. Make sure you obtain all relevant documents, and submit them along with your disclosure.
Consequences for Failure to Disclose
Some consequences are explained on the application: Note: Any false or misleading statement, incomplete or inaccurate information, omission of required information or failure to update changes in information in this application may cause you to be denied admission; or, if admitted, to be dismissed from the School of Law or cause your degree to be revoked by the dean, and may jeopardize licensure with Boards of Bar Examiners.
These consequences are real, and in extreme cases students’ admissions have been rescinded. The most likely consequence, if the failure to disclose is serious enough, is that the Law School will not certify the student’s character and fitness for bar eligibility.
A failure to disclose required information to the Law School can hinder or preclude admission to the bar. Boards of Bar Examiners conduct character and fitness inquiries after an applicant has passed the bar, and they easily detect discrepancies between disclosures on law school applications and disclosures in an application for bar eligibility. When discrepancies are detected, those applicants are subject to further inquiry, and in extreme cases their admission to the bar is delayed or denied – even though they have passed the bar exam.