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Misstatements on Law School Applications: A Pitfall in the Committee on Character ProcessBruce D. Greenberg

It is always a good idea to be candid in completing an application to law school. Applicants are seeking admission to a school that will lead to a career in a profession where candor is one of the highest values. And if the law school discovers a misrepresentation, that could result in denial or revocation of admission, or some sort of discipline if the applicant is already enrolled at the law school.

But the consequences of misrepresentations or misstatements on law school applications go far beyond law school. The Supreme Court of New Jersey Committee on Character, and comparable panels in other jurisdictions, obtain copies of law school applications as part of their process of certifying Bar applicants for character and fitness. A Bar applicant who has made a misrepresentation in his or her law school application may be denied Bar admission due to lack of candor.

Many law schools, including the law schools in New Jersey, include in their new student orientations a session regarding Committee on Character proceedings, even though any interaction with a Committee on Character is at least three years away. In New Jersey, representatives of the Supreme Court of New Jersey Committee on Character often attend those sessions, in order to acquaint first-year law students with the Committee on Character process.

One of the things that such presentations highlight is the need to review one’s law school application and promptly correct any misstatements as the first year of law school begins, rather than waiting until a misstatement is exposed in the character and fitness process. The law school’s Dean of Students, or some other law school official, is put forward as a person whom any student who has made a misstatement in applying to the law school may approach, on a confidential basis, to correct the misstatement.

Such a procedure is an excellent way to ensure that incoming students are aware of the problems that a misrepresentation in a law school application can later have on Bar admission. But some students fall through the cracks, such as those who transfer in to that law school, having begun their legal studies at a school that did not offer an orientation about this issue at the start of the first year of study.

It is essential that every law student review his or her law school application carefully and objectively, as early as possible, in order to determine whether any statements made there are materially inaccurate or even outright untrue. Though it is difficult to face up to the need to acknowledge fault in that regard by approaching a law school official about it, the situation will be all the worse when the misrepresentation is exposed during the Bar application process.

At that point, it may appear that the applicant deliberately made the misrepresentation when applying and willfully concealed it thereafter. Applicants who spent nineteen years in school and expended thousands of dollars for their education, Bar review courses, Bar application fees, and all the rest will find their Bar admission delayed or even denied. Like a disease, the consequences of misrepresentations in law school applications will not get better if neglected over time, but will instead become even more severe once the Committee on Character process begins and the facts are exposed there.