J.Y.: Hello, and welcome to the 7Sage podcast. I'm J.Y. Ping, and on today's episode, admissions consultants Tajira McCoy, Tracy Simmons, Jenifer Godfrey, Elizabeth Cavallari, and Gina Cecchetti discuss how to navigate and answer application questions concerning character and fitness and the importance of candid disclosure. Towards the end, they address questions from the audience. Without further ado, please enjoy.
Tajira: My name is Tajira McCoy. I am one of the 7Sage admissions consultants. So glad that you're here to join us today. Today we have a very important conversation, navigating character and fitness questions and disclosure, the integrity of the profession, as it were, and this is going to be one of those conversations where some of the questions can get a little personal. So we'll start off with some questions that I prepared for our guests, who are all former admissions officers and are currently 7Sage consultants. We have each had our own experiences, and so I'll have everyone share which schools they've been a part of.
For me, most recently in admissions, I worked at Berkeley Law as a Director of Admissions and Scholarship Programs, but I've worked all over the country. I've also done career services, so I've been on the other end working directly with the State Bar of California. Certainly, this is an important subject that we're talking about tonight. And then I will have Tracy introduce herself.
Tracy: Hi, Tracy Simmons. I have been around for about 23 years. I think I've been at four ABA law schools, so Golden Gate, Chapman, McGeorge, and University of San Diego. Only admissions and financial aid and diversity. No career services on my side.
Tajira: And Jennifer.
Jenifer: Hi, everyone. I'm Jenifer Godfrey. I've been with 7Sage, I guess I'm in my second year now. Prior to this role, I worked at, I think, also three different law schools, maybe four. Most recent role was at the University of Arkansas in Little Rock, where I was Assistant Dean of Admissions there. But these days, I'm a full-time mom and an educational event planner. Happy to be here.
Elizabeth: Hi, I'm Elizabeth Cavallari. I spent six years at William and Mary Law School. This will be my fourth cycle with 7Sage, but I also have experience in undergrad admissions, and then just general grad admissions.
Tajira: And Gina.
Gina: I'm Gina Cecchetti, and more recently I was working as Director at Duquesne Law School, but also worked at Case Western as well on the admissions side.
Tajira: Wonderful. So as we go this evening, our attendees, please know that you can drop questions into the Q&A. I will be looking at those and posing questions throughout our session tonight. We will try to bring some folks up at the end to ask questions so that we can hear your voices and connect with you. Tracy, I'm going to pick on you first, Dean. What are character and fitness questions and why are they important?
Tracy: So the character and fitness questions are generally ones that are about items in your past that relate to criminal background, like action, being fired, lawsuits that you may have been involved in, bankruptcy, et cetera. Generally, they are framed after the bar, state bar questions in a particular jurisdiction. That is not always the case, but the law schools are basically looking to kind of basically get you ready for the character and fitness kind of aspect of the application process after you've actually graduated. Or most people will actually work on this during their third year or fourth year of law school.
And so basically they're a set of questions that each law school will have. Unfortunately for you all as applicants, the questions are not the same. There's no universal set of questions that we ask. The language is very different, and so it's super important that you be thoughtful about the questions that each school asks, but at the end of the day, they basically are about your character and how fit you are to serve in the legal profession.
Lastly, I'll say that the reality is that these questions are designed to ensure that the state bar in which you wish to be licensed knows who you are, your background, and the different issues or items that may appear as part of your background before they actually allow you to kind of serve the public in general. And so, again, I will just end with, it's often not what you did, it's the fact that you don't disclose it. And my colleagues here will go into way more detail about that as Ms. McCoy leads this conversation this evening.
Tajira: So thorough. Thank you. Jenifer, if I find that I'm in need of disclosing something, how much should I disclose, and what should I touch on?
Jenifer: It's not a dissertation by any means, but you do want full facts and circumstances if it is criminal in nature. You certainly want to talk about the disposition of the case and some of that more procedural element of what happened. But you definitely are going to be using at least a half a page depending upon maybe what happened. It could be longer or shorter, but it's really not a space for like a narrative or a long story. It really is just the facts and all of the facts, not leaving anything out. You want to be as candid as possible.
And just to kind of build on what Tracy said, the reason for this is at X point in time when you have completed law school and you are applying for your licensure for the state bar, most state bars, if not all, are actually going to ask for a copy of your law school application. A lot of times they will receive that directly from the law school itself. You sign off basically like a waiver to release your documents, and if it doesn't match, you're going to be in a lot more hot water later on down the road.
So you want to, as fully as possible, having to get into law school is going to cost you majorly later. Maybe you could even have your admissions offer rescinded three years later, or at least you got a JD, but you might not ever be able to practice. So it's really not worth hiding anything at this stage.
Tajira: Let me unmute myself. By a show of hands, has anybody seen someone's admission be rescinded? It's not a fun thing to have to do that. I've done it myself and like it's terrible news to have to give that to someone. But at the same time, there is a very serious component to this. This is the start of a professional career, very much with the application, that is the beginning of it. Just know that from this point on, everything that you do can be scrutinized as a part of your profession.
And so going into this is very serious. Character and fitness is very serious. Disclosure is serious. Take it seriously. Like when it comes to some of these applications and disclosures, a lot of times we'll find that candidates might have left things a little thin. And if they say, "Okay, well, I was found to have violated Penal Code Section 54321," Gina, how would you react to that statement?
Gina: With no other description, I want to know what that is. It sounds serious, but it, maybe it's jaywalking. You never know. So if I've seen statements that do include those penal codes, but then they explain what exactly happened, that's the important thing, because if the statement is a little thin and sparse, we have a lot more questions than answers, and so we will, some schools will reach out to you and maybe ask for an updated addendum, and so that's your opportunity to provide information.
If schools don't, that could be a red flag on their end and it may not give you that opportunity, and so you could have an unfavorable decision. So it's kind of best to err on that side with explaining everything without the kind of massive details, not a descriptive essay. Stick to the facts, though.
Tajira: Okay, Elizabeth, I'm going to talk, start with some criminal character and fitness to get us going. Charges were dismissed. Do I need to disclose?
Elizabeth: It depends. Often I would say yes, but what you'll want to do is look and see what school questions they're asking you. Often schools will align their character and fitness questions with bar exam, like the bar fitness questions with the state that most of their students will practice in. So like when I was at William and Mary, we aligned ours to Virginia, and so I didn't need that information. But there's other law schools that some people, that they would want to know if anything was dismissed.
So sometimes they will say include it if it's been dismissed, if it was expunged, if it was when you were a juvenile. They might want to know every traffic infraction. Some might want to know everything outside of moving violation. So it's really important that you read what the question asks and answer accordingly. Often if a student was answering character and fitness, they gave me everything, even though I wasn't asking everything, it also made me question judgment because they weren't actually reading the directions and disclosing accordingly.
Tajira: To ping back off of something that Elizabeth mentioned, there are some judgment calls that are made in terms of what is considered a minor traffic violation. Jen, could you speak to that, please?
Jenifer: It is not a DUI or DWI, so I would say a minor traffic violation, maybe speeding nine or less over? If you're getting into reckless driving and things like that, no longer minor. So if you're feeling like you're kind of splitting hairs or just trying to get on like the right side of the line, call the admissions office or reach out via email. It's worth your time to do that and make sure that you're giving them what they want.
But yeah, most of the stuff is like, for some people, I mean, some of us are totally open and honest with any and everybody maybe to a fault, but if it's something that you would kind of like not want somebody to know about, it's probably exactly what we want to know about.
Tajira: Continuing on traffic violations, Tracy, what if I don't remember all of them, and where can I get that information?
Tracy: Generally speaking, you can look at the public records. I mean, you can look for yourself and do the search. I always tell people that it's best to say things like, "To the best of my recollection, to the best of my memory, I did a search myself and I couldn't find the actual code or the exact date. This is approximately when it happened." But do your homework and do your research because, unfortunately for you, the state bar is going to find it, and so you want to at least give the appearance of doing your absolute best to actually find the information yourself and report it and disclose it.
That's something that I think comes down to, you're basically building your character in the rep, in the business, right? When you start this process, right? This is all part of it. And so I think going that extra mile and saying, "Here's, I did a Google search, I looked at some county records, I contacted the local police department, et cetera, et cetera, and this is all I could find," that goes a long way as opposed to being evasive and not trying at all, and/or ignoring it. That's just not a good look at all, and you don't want to be in that situation.
Tajira: Often you can also contact your local DMV because sometimes they will have different parts of your traffic record available to you as well. The stickier part becomes if you were driving in other jurisdictions, then you have to remember what state you were in to contact that DMV as well. Let's see. Gina, now, if I have an expunged history, do I need to disclose that?
Gina: Good question. I think, again, it depends how the questions are worded. So this is just something you have to pay close attention to. I kind of always err on the side, like, let's prepare a document in case, so we don't forget about it, but it is kind of a case-by-case basis. So, yeah.
Tajira: That's helpful. Thank you. Do parking tickets matter to schools or is that something that also just depends on the school? Elizabeth?
Elizabeth: I would say most likely not, but I would still check. I don't think I've read any character and fitness questions that asked like specifically about parking tickets, but it's better to do your due diligence and ask the question.
Tajira: And so I'm going to move along to my performance and academic discipline. Let's see, like if a school has already removed something from my student record, do I still have to disclose that academic discipline now that it's expired and there's no record of it? Jen?
Jenifer: Yes. I mean, if the question is asked, you do need to disclose what happened, when it happened, again, to the best of your recollection. Just because something isn't going to be notated on your transcript anymore, there's usually still some sort of record that it actually happened, and you can get the letters or whatever it is that the school is asking for to back that information up. But if they're asking for it and [_unintelligible_] it happened, it's best to go ahead and disclose.
Tajira: When it comes to issues that have been put before the honor board, things like plagiarism or other types of dishonesty, cheating, is that an automatic rejection? Tracy?
Tracy: That's a tough one. I feel like in my experience, it depends on the law school, it depends on the makeup of the admissions committee and the personalities. I think that there are definitely some faculty reviewers and some admissions professionals who feel like any academic integrity issue is and/or should be an outright denial. I think there are many of us who believe that there are nuances and that we need additional information. I mean, people can make honest mistakes, particularly when it comes to plagiarism and/or the lack of kind of quoting things, citing things properly.
And so this is where it becomes really important to be thorough and thoughtful. And I think one of my colleagues mentioned, or our colleagues mentioned not playing the semantics game. This is where this often comes up, and I have seen people literally have their offer of admission revoked first week, second week of law school because they were playing around with the language of the question and thought they were being coy, and upon receiving final transcript or something of that nature, we see this type of issue and it's like, this is serious. You're coming into a profession where your word and your reputation matter a whole lot. Sometimes that's all you have.
And so it can be cause for an outright denial. I think it's something that you need to contact each law school you're interested in, and you did ask specifically, "What type of information would the admissions committee like to see related to the specific incident that I was involved with, because here's what I've planned on sharing. I'm not sure if that's thorough enough." We will happily tell you because we want you to provide as much information as possible so we can make a good decision on your behalf versus kind of a half-baked decision because we don't have all the information. But it can be, it's very serious and it's something that you need to be really thoughtful about.
Tajira: In terms of the serious nature of it, I know that, and I'm playing candidate right now, I know that there are certain instances that kind of have to go before the admissions committee. Are those some of those instances, and if so, like what does that process look like? Elizabeth?
Elizabeth: So I think this would vary from school to school, but often if a candidate is someone that we think is admissible, but there's something in the file that gives us some question, it will often go to a larger committee, whether that's with other admissions officers on staff or to the faculty admissions committee. But often as like we look at things like plagiarism or violating kind of any type of like honor code that your school might have, it was what was the mistake? Like what was the intentionality behind it? But also like what have you learned?
And I think that's an important piece there where instead of just saying like, "Here's all the information," but saying like, "Here's what I did. I made a mistake, I messed up. Here's what I learned from it, and here's more who I am as a student today." Now, we're all human and we've all made mistakes and blips, but it's about kind of being open and honest about it, but then seeing the growth piece where we can picture where you've gone since that mistake.
Tajira: That's great. I think so often we have moments where that growth piece might be missing, and that's the point where sometimes character and fitness statements seem like they're not necessarily, the candidate isn't necessarily taking accountability because either they've pointed the finger at a circumstance or another person and kind of deflected, or they haven't really taken the time to look back and say, "This is what I would've done differently. This is how my life has changed because of it moving forward. This is what I do now to avoid those things." I think that is an integral piece for any of these particular statements that you want to make sure that you're considering and include.
In terms of academic probation, academic dismissal, I have a question from the audience. What should a previous academic dismissed law student write in their addendum upon reapplying to a law school? Jen?
Jenifer: So this definitely would be more detailed than your average addendum of this sort of nature. You do really want to give a lot more substantive information about what went right, what went wrong during the time that you were in law school. I have had clients that have literally gone into like the full weight of the fact, maybe someone, maybe their parents fell ill around final exams and having to really explain all of those things. And then also explaining kind of what corrective measures you attempted and how things would be different this go-round.
So just basically like knowing what I know now, maybe it is that you need to be seeking help or letting someone know that what's going on in your personal life early enough. So maybe you're withdrawing, or maybe it is that you now know that you need to be in a study group and not going at it alone. So you do need to basically illustrate that you have an awareness of like what it is to be in a law school and to perform well academically and how your circumstances will be different now compared to your first attempt.
Tajira: That's great. That's really helpful. Moving on to kind of the professional component, some schools will have a question that talks about professional affiliations, jobs, military affiliations, and they ask questions about if you've been kicked out of an organization, if you had been terminated from a job, if you've been dishonorably discharged from the military, what does that statement tend to look like? Or have you been at a school that's required that statement? Gina?
Gina: I've not been at a school that asked that particular statement. I have come across a few, and again, the theme is be open and honest and disclose it. Again, I think it also depends upon what exactly happened. If it's a firing, explaining that what the lesson, the consequences were. If it was maybe like a human resource action taken, that can be cause for some concern as well. So the theme of the night is explain and be open, because that's information that the committee needs to know. We need to think of the kind of student we want you to be in law school but should be as well. And so, yeah, just disclose and be open and honest.
Tajira: That's great, and if some schools ask for that particular information and others don't, Tracy, if you happen to be at a school that didn't ask for it, but I had already prepared it, is that something that you expect me to disclose because it's happened and I see that other people are asking it? How does that work?
Tracy: That's a tough one. I'm going to give the proverbial law school admissions answer: it depends. I think this is where it's important to remember that our jobs as admissions folks and folks in admissions offices are basically to help you, and so it doesn't hurt to call and ask. You can simply state, like, "I've seen this question at a lot of schools. If I'm reading your application correctly, you don't ask this specific question, but it seems like it'd be helpful if I disclosed it now in case I attend here or matriculate here and the bar examiners take this, come and basically visit your school and get my application."
I think it's important to kind of use good judgment and kind of put it in context, and so I would say it's always better to disclose if possible, because you just are putting it out there and you're going to be done with it. But it doesn't hurt to ask the specific question, like, is this something that your admissions committee would frown upon, because you don't ask this question specifically? Or avoiding the semantics game because if they ask a question that is similar, or a little more narrow or a little more broad, you'd be safe by just disclosing anyway because then you would've covered all your bases and you wouldn't have to worry about it.
And I think the big thing that we want you all to take away is that we don't want you stressing about this. We want you to get it, do it right, and be done with it so you can move on and focus on law school, as opposed to constantly worrying like someone's going to come behind you and figure out that you didn't disclose this, and then you're in trouble. So sometimes you're just better off just putting it out there and just being done with it.
Tajira: Elizabeth, why do some schools ask whether candidates have been a party to civil lawsuit?
Elizabeth: That is a great question and that's something I think I would defer to my colleagues, just because I haven't worked at a law school where we've asked that question.
Tajira: Have you, Gina? Tracy, please?
Tracy: I think mainly because they want to know kind of the things you've involved with. I mean, so if you think about it from a really practical perspective, the big thing from a general counsel at a university's perspective would be, is this person super litigious? I mean, basically, like do you want a student who's been involved with a bunch of lawsuits coming to your institution? Because the likelihood is that that may be someone who is going to kind of have the same behavior at your institution, and you might not want to be, yeah.
So you might not necessarily want that person on your campus. And so this is making the assumption that the lawsuits, they're multiple and that they weren't necessarily coming from the best place. Obviously, there are situations where we have plenty of candidates who have been involved in civil litigation for legitimate reasons, and they were well within their rights to kind of be involved in that case and what have you. But I think what we're looking for with everything, particularly related to character and fitness, is patterns of behavior.
And so, again, if you're someone that's been involved in 2, 3, 4, 5 lawsuits, that is going to set off some alarm bells for most institutions because the thought is that every time you have an issue or if something doesn't go the way you want it to, your first method of kind of resolving the issue is to sue. And again, as an institution, if I'm thinking of the institution and the well-being of my institution, I'm not necessarily going to want to admit someone that is then, that's their normal kind of mode of operation, so.
Jenifer: On the other end of that, all of that absolutely true, but then also it's a way to triangulate. If you're the one who's being sued, we might find out about the, what should have been a DUI when you were drunk driving and there's an insurance claim and you're being sued, we may find out about potential other behaviors that would be kind of tantamount to if you had an arrest, but it didn't go all the way through to charges and the whole nine yards in court. But just there is this accusation that maybe you did something wrong to a neighbor's property or something in that light.
So it just gives us an idea of maybe some of the less favorable things that you have been up to potentially, because at least you've been accused of it in a very official manner, and so it's just a way for the school to find that out. The one school that I worked at that did ask that question, it was the age-old just needed to match up with the state bar application, but it ended up coming in pretty handy for us a couple of times because it just, there was information there that we 100% did care about, and we would not have been asking that question on our own.
Tajira: It's so important to note, too, that sometimes we're not just asking the question because we know the state bar asks. We also are asking the question because sometimes us finding out early that there might be a pattern helps us to help you prepare. And so perfect example, Jenifer and I both happened to work at law schools in Louisiana. Louisiana is a state where there are open containers and all kinds of interesting things happening because we love an open container. But at the same time, you have to be very diligent and very careful, especially when operating a car.
And so for folks who happen to have multiple DUIs, that was something that the state bar took very seriously. In instances where we would see several DUIs on someone's character and fitness statement, we had to make recommendations to that particular candidate to reach out to the state bar because the Louisiana State Bar was likely to put them on a sobriety contract.
And so just understanding that there are different nuances in every single jurisdiction, and sometimes we're asking the questions not because it has anything to do with our decision-making process, but because we're trying to make sure that we're setting you up so that you can be as prepared as possible when you're going through the motions of getting your licensure and that you're able to get your licensure because those sobriety contracts are often three-year contracts and if you started at the beginning of law school, by the time you graduate, you're ready to practice, whereas if you don't start it until you graduate, well, now you're in a pickle. And so there are things to consider and nuances to all of this.
And I say that because the next question that I ask, it's a little difficult. What does all of this mean? And sometimes, are these character and fitness questions, are the responses used to justify a rejection? And I'm going to leave this to my entire panel so that if anybody wants to jump in, feel free.
Gina: I'll begin. But I mean, I think it depends. One DUI, not necessarily. What is it? A bad DUI with a huge major accident, multiple incidents, it can raise a red flag. My previous experience, we had somebody with a felony. They kind of got caught up in a scheme, and by the time they realized, they became a whistleblower. So it's great. They realized what was happening, became the whistleblower, but despite working with the proper authorities to, you know, bring some people down, they still ended up with the felony on the record. And so it was up to them to ensure that they could even practice in the state. But that was an issue that we even had to consider. Can we admit the person knowing that they may not be able to practice? So it greatly varies, I think.
Tracy: I totally agree. I've definitely had some candidates with a little more serious character and fitness items that we had to have a meeting, I needed to involve like general counsel and the dean of students and the dean, and then I had to go back and say, "Okay, candidate, why? Here are the things you need to ask the state bar, and we're going to waitlist you now while we figure this out because we have more research to do, you have more research to do, and we're just not sure right now," because ethically, we also don't want to admit people where we know there's not a strong likelihood that they will ever be able to be licensed. I mean, that's just not fair to the candidates.
And so I think it's definitely kind of going back to what you were saying before, to hear too about kind of why we ask some of the questions we ask. I mean, it's partly also because we are trying to figure out like are there things that we can help you work through, documentation you can get now if you're in the midst of a lawsuit, midst of charges being filed, things of that nature. Those are all things that if the charge was a misdemeanor and now because something else has happened and now it's a felony, that changes the whole game. And so those are things that we have to take in consideration.
So I think, as Gina was saying, it's a little more nuanced and it definitely varies. But it's definitely much more complicated, I think, than I'm going to say, "I'm denying you because of this one incident." It's usually more involved than that. And then the last thing I'll say for now is that several of the people that I've had to deny over the last couple years, it wasn't necessarily that what they had done, I mean, some of the things had been serious, but they had been, enough time had passed, they had paid their dues, had served their time, et cetera, et cetera.
But it was their lack of humility and their inability to acknowledge that they had made the mistake that the admissions committee could not get past, and they thought like, this is a person who will show up in these spaces and continue to make bad decisions and blame everyone else. And so again, not necessarily just what they did in terms of why we would deny them, but it's the fact that there was no acknowledgement of the fact that they had been involved in this issue, this incident, this crime, this issue, what have you. And so I think those are, it's a much bigger, bigger issue. But at the heart of what you were asking, it can be part of a decision, so.
Elizabeth: And I don't think, as we read files, we look for ways that we want to deny someone or find a way to justify denying someone. Yes, the law school admission is competitive and in a lot of places we deny far more people than we admit. But when I read files, I'm looking for the best in an applicant. So even in the character and fitness, as we're telling different examples, like we're trying to see where are the positives or the upsides in it? What have people learned? And so as we go through kind of the application review and thinking about character and fitness, we want to know these things because we want to, again, help you in the process, as my colleagues have said, and just make sure we get a full picture of who you are during the application process.
Jenifer: I would say I agree, obviously, with all of those things, but we looked at, in my past experiences, we looked at how the character and fitness fit into the whole application. So I mean, it still was only one factor in the whole, I mean, I really, honestly, over a 10-year career, can't think of anyone who got denied for one single thing. There were always other elements in the application. But one thing that I haven't said tonight, and it was always a big part of the decision with regard to character and fitness is, a huge function of an admissions officer, in my view, is building a community, and I have to think about others in that community as I evaluate applicants.
And so when I'm looking at a pattern of behavior, one that's coming to mind now as I had someone who just, not, just so many instances, I want to say more than four instances of stalking and just not having good relationships with others, I can't put that in my law school community. I can't expose other people in my community to that sort of potential behavior and harassment. They're safe, they're depending on us to provide a safe environment for them to learn in. And I'm not saying just because you've had that issue in the past that you can't overcome it, but it was clear that this person had not. So it can't be only about you, especially when it comes to character and fitness. I have to be thinking about the community that I'm a gatekeeper for as an admissions officer.
Tajira: Those patterns, that's actually something that I wanted to touch on, and I think that we see those patterns often both on the academic side and on the criminal side. You might have someone who, the biggest thing that they have is a speeding ticket, but they have like 12 of them. Or you have someone who has had six different opportunities where they've had alcohol in their dorm room, or things that start to show a disregard for rules and for trying to make sure that you're, you keep staying above board when it comes to whatever requirements are being set before you. When you start to create those patterns, what you don't realize is all of us have been trained to see those.
So if I see like four DUIs or I see seven speeding tickets, I'm starting to notice certain things and it makes me look at different parts of your application differently. It's important to note, like we start to look at for that behavior in everything. Okay, well, if we've got seven speeding tickets and we've got this kind of disregard over here, and now I'm looking at the LSAT and I'm seeing like multiple retakes but no behavior change, no practice change, and there was just an expectation that the score was going to change, I'm seeing a pattern across the board and it's starting to tell me about how you kind of attack certain instances and circumstances. It lets me know kind of the kind of student I can expect you to be. And so like, just know that we're looking at literally everything from cover to cover within your application.
If I apply to a law school and I realize that I forgot to include some information from my academic or my criminal record, genuinely just forgot, whoopsies, how do I fix that? Or can I fix that? I'll start with you, Jen.
Jenifer: Most places will let you fix it. Reach out as soon as you know, providing the proper addendum and explanation and apology to make sure and ask if it can be added to your file. I guess if the answer you receive is no, you just have to take that one on the chin. But I think that most law schools would appreciate the fact that you did try to fix the problem. I know, for instance, when I was at LSU, we even did the big kind of, kind of, I hate to say, scare tactic meeting even after the students were enrolled to just go back over character and fitness.
Was there something that should have been on your application that wasn't? Do we need to haul you on down to the admissions office and let you amend your application in the first [_unintelligible_]? We usually had a few that were like, oh yeah, that drunk in public. So, it's, I think you should always try to correct your problem as soon as possible, your error, rather, and most schools are going to be so open to that, to the tune of their, even at orientation, trying to bring you into the light and make sure that you're not having any problems down the road.
Elizabeth: We did the same thing, Jen, that I think most schools do during orientation. Hey, just a reminder, here's what you put in your character and fitness. Is it scarier to have to disclose it as a 1L after you've said no to other law schools and committed to one, because we can rescind your admission? Absolutely. Should you put it in your application initially? Absolutely. But sometimes people do honestly forget. Or sometimes you didn't think it was that big of a deal, and then you can include it later, but it really puts you in the strongest position possible to put it in your application and be transparent right from the get-go.
Jenifer: And that also goes for things that happen between clicking submit and enrolling in law school, actually, between clicking submit and graduating. You've always got to tell your law school what you've been up to. You're their problem until you're literally graduated.
Tracy: Ongoing duty to disclose, so don't forget that. Super, super important.
Tajira: Now, my understanding, or at least of the schools that I've been at, we've had instances where we had the folks who were like, oh, whoopsies, I forgot. And then they disclosed. I don't know if this was the case at any of your schools, but did you all have where the admissions committee then had to re-review their application to see if they would still offer admission? Because that was the instance at several of mine.
Tracy: Oh, sorry, Jen.
Jenifer: No, you go ahead. I was just going to say, only if it was like super bad.
Tracy: That's what I was going to say. If it was super, like it would depend on the severity, and sometimes I'd have to, I would go to the dean of students first and say like, "So, that student we really liked that just deposited, well, they just came in and said they did x." And then we would have a quick conversation like, is this a "I've got to go back to the full committee," or is this a "you and I can kind of decide and maybe do the scare tactic thing and say we need every documentation, blah, blah, blah right now, and then we'll see," or is this serious enough where we now need to run this up the whole chain and now get the dean involved in whatever, because there's a potential that we're going to have to revoke? But severity of it really made the difference.
Tajira: I've definitely been at schools where it depended and we would kind of consult, but I've, one of the schools that I worked at, and I've been at five law schools, one of them, it was every single instance. And so if someone amended their application because they had neglected to include something or omitted something or forgot something, we had to take that to the committee every single time, and the committee would discuss it and vote. If that vote did not go a student's way, then we would take it to the dean and then potentially that person would have their admission rescinded.
And it did happen on a couple of occasions where we did ultimately have to make that call where the person was, had their admissions rescinded. One of them was actually at orientation when we finally had the decision come back. And that's a terrible feeling. It's so, so important to disclose as early as you can, as detailed and as candidly as you can, because the last thing that you want is to be in a position where your admission's disclosed. And I've seen folks make it all the way through three years of law school and then have admissions disclosed, which means there is no longer a record of the three years that you attended school except for your student loans.
That's not a position that you want to be in. It's awful. Just know, like, it's always about giving that information up front. It's just about addressing it here. It's really for the state bar in most instances. And so what we're trying to do is we're just trying to help you get that narrative together, because you're going to have to tell it in even more detail when you apply to the state bar.
With that, I'm going to start jumping into some of the questions that we have from our audience. The first one is, do high school disciplinary actions need to be disclosed? The way some schools phrase their character and fitness section is to include the post-secondary school incidents. But what about high school disciplinary actions? Elizabeth?
Elizabeth: Again, this depends. Most schools, no, but there are a handful of schools out there that do ask for information. I was working with an applicant last year where application was 99% done. She goes, "Oh, I've got to tell you all the stuff that happened to me in high school," and not some great stuff happened. Like she rebounded, like rebounded, but it took us a long time to kind of work through them, figure out the right language to kind of show that growth, and so most schools won't require, but some will, and it still requires the same thought and care and disclosure, whether it happened at 16 or whether it happened at 25, when you're applying to law school.
Tajira: That's great. The next question is, I have an instance of academic dishonesty that is not on my record. When disclosing the event, should I mention that it's not on my record, or is it better to omit conversations about what is or isn't on my record? Jen?
Jenifer: I think that it's probably helpful to give those facts because there might be someone who's asking for some sort of documentation later. I think there's a way to say it without making it sound like you're trying to minimize or avoid accountability. It's just a fact that it's not something that's on your official record. But you have to do that in such a way that you're not trying to say, "Well, you know, I have this, but everything's okay because it's not even on my official record." That's not taking accountability.
So if you just state it factually, I mean, it is a fact. There's nothing wrong with saying that. And it might help to avoid some maybe questions or requests for certain things later down the road connected with it if it's already put out in the front that this explanation here is pretty much all there is.
Tajira: Gina, this question is, how do you go about taking responsibility for a cheating charge on your academic record if you were not really at fault for the cheating charge?
Gina: Oh man. At the same time, like, you may not really be at fault, but what was it with somebody looking off your paper? Knowingly you get caught up into it. Was it, oftentimes, I think when students are given take-home tests, sometimes group work may be done, although not supposed to. It varies, but I think, again, you have to own it. Like, it did happen, it's on your record, it did happen, you have to acknowledge it, but you have to acknowledge what went wrong and like how you're not doing that in the future. But yeah, that's, I mean, it kind of varies too, so.
Jenifer: I feel like we're seeing so much more of that with the pandemic times, with the ProctorU and the electronic things and somebody looking to the right three times, and now all of a sudden they have these academic dishonesty things. I think with that being kind of what everyone's reality was, I think you just kind of say what happened and say, basically, "This is the decision that the school came down with, and I have no choice other than to accept and respect it, but here's my position and I kind of stand by that I literally sneezed and looked to the right three times. Like I did not cheat, but I accept and respect the decision and I have to move forward with that on my record" would be, I guess, the best way to try to own something that you didn't do.
Elizabeth: And then I think in the case, like I'm working with someone this year where she sent a project to a classmate saying, "Go ahead, look at my project as an example," and the classmate completely plagiarized it. And so they both got in trouble and they were both cited, and the initial draft was, it was her fault and I got caught up in it. I'm like, "Well, should you really have sent her your entire project? Probably not. Maybe you should have had a conversation about it."
And so it was a good learning opportunity, and as she thought about it more, it's like, "I thought I was helping her, but I did something I probably shouldn't have done, and in hindsight, I would've had that conversation with my classmate rather than just saying, 'Here's all my work. Do with it what you want.'" And so I think there is an opportunity for learning, even in some of these academic dishonesty things that we want to see as an admissions committee.
Tajira: Okay, these next few have some nuance. Tracy, if the law school I was academically dismissed from had accreditation issues after, is it worth bringing that up in the addendum?
Tracy: My initial response is no, and then I lean towards a little bit, it depends. But the reality is that you were academically dismissed from the school prior to the accreditation issues, and that has nothing to do with your dismissal. So you would be best suited by stating why you were academically dismissed, what you learned from the situation, and why this time would be different if given the opportunity to attend law school again. And just leave it at that. You don't even know if anybody on the admissions committee worked at that school at any given point and may have some affinity and you might offend them. So that's not worth it. Just take responsibility and move on.
Tajira: Yeah, anytime judgment can get called into question, it's just not a good move because the second that you open the door to folks looking at your judgment, they're going to scrutinize everything. So be careful with that.
The next question is, what if you were in the wrong industry and you went to social media to say how rotten that industry was after you started asking questions, and the C-suite didn't like that and they offered you a package to leave that you took, and then the industry started to badmouth you to other potential employers, which recruiters let you know about, so you were even more sarcastic about that industry on social media? Elizabeth, would you like to tackle this?
Elizabeth: Sure. So I think what initially comes to my mind is I have a question about professional judgment, and I don't know the whole situation, I don't know kind of what levels of confidentiality might have been involved, but it makes me question how you might defend a client, or how you might speak about those clients, or how you might speak about your classmates or faculty or the community you might build.
And so I understand that people get frustrated and we often go to social media and things like that to kind of express our frustrations, but I think you need to own what you did and say, "Here's why I did it. Here are the consequences of that. Looking forward in a different circumstance, I may do it differently." Again, it'll probably depend on your own perspective, but you need to understand the way you will talk about this, based on how Tajira read the question, has me kind of question professional judgment and who you might be in a law school community.
Tajira: Anyone want to add to that? Okay. I have one that says, is it worth it to apply to a T-14 school with an academic misconduct charge like plagiarism or cheating? Jen?
Jenifer: Yeah, I think it's still worth it. I've had clients that have had some problems that have been admitted, but I think it's all going to turn on the facts and how you present them, and then also how compelling the rest of your application is. So I think it's worth it to apply, but realizing that those schools are a long shot for many reasons, not just character and fitness. But don't count yourself out. Everyone has a past. You're doing what you need to do to try to arm yourself with framing that past as best as possible by even being here tonight. So there's nothing wrong with hearing no. You're going to hear it a lot in your life. You're going to hear it a lot in your career as a lawyer. You just toughen up. You have to have a thick skin and put those applications out there if you have a genuine interest in those schools.
Tajira: Gina, this one says, if we already have to write a GPA addendum and a character and fitness addendum because poor grades, placed on academic probation, would it be best to meld the two issues into one, or should we write two separate addendums?
Gina: I'd be curious what my colleagues say, but I would almost err on the side of two separate ones. I think sometimes they might be tied to each other, but I think explaining it separately is sometimes helpful.
Tajira: Tracy, I see you nodding.
Tracy: Yeah, I mean, just because sometimes people, you don't want to conflate issues and you don't want to make things too convoluted. I mean, the goal with any of these, generally speaking in these statements, is to kind of be concise and but detailed at the same time, right? And so being thoughtful and having clear lines of communication might require two separate, distinct explanations. There might be a little overlap, but you really want to get to the heart of the issue quickly so that we're not dwelling on, because again, you don't want us to dwell on all these things that are kind of like the not the best attributes in terms of what you're bringing to the table, but you're trying to explain it in a way that leaves us with no follow-up questions. And so being clear might require two separate and distinct statements, like Gina said.
Tajira: Jen, what type of information does one typically look for concerning being placed on academic probation? What evidence, if any, needs to be provided to show that you were taken off?
Jenifer: A lot of times the schools are going to ask for a letter from whomever the academic dean is, or sometimes student and academic affairs are the same person. So sometimes just a statement from your school that documents that. Also for other schools, just the notation on your transcript is fine. Your transcripts are going to show whether you're on any sort of academic probation or anything like that. So it is going to vary from school to school, and they generally will let you know.
I know a question a few ago, someone asked about mentioning whether a school had been kind of shut down for accreditation. That might be an instance where you might say, "I have a hard time getting some of this stuff because XYZ happened." But if you are in a situation where you can't get your documentation, like legitimately can't, then you might mention it in your addendum as well, but not just because you don't feel like getting it or it's an inconvenience.
Tajira: That's great. Thank you. Just a reminder to everybody listening, you can still drop a question into the discussion forum. I'm only going to be able to get to one more question here, and so if we didn't get to your question, don't be afraid to either message me on the 7Sage website or to just respond and drop a comment in the discussion forum under the event page so that we can make sure that your questions are answered.
This last question that I have for my panelists tonight is, in the spirit of disclosure, does it ever work against us or show bad judgment to include instances that an admissions committee wouldn't need to be included? I think they mean just like kind of being overinclusive or beyond candid. Is it best to just kind of let the admissions committee make that call or should we try to limit what we're saying? And I'm going to leave that one open to the floor.
Jenifer: I can recall one instance in my career where someone was super just like detailed and bulleted, and it went like over a page, and I was like, gosh, this is not a C&F addendum. This is a rap sheet. And it's not so much that everything was so serious, but just the weight of dumping all of that, from dorm room violations on up. It was poor judgment, but it also just left me feeling like this candidate is so much worse than anybody else in the pool. And that probably wasn't even the case. They just like literally highlighted their own flaws.
So I think you do want to take care and provide what we've asked for, unless you've asked, called and asked or emailed and asked, and you've been told to do more, but for the most part, you don't want to be overloading us on negative things about yourself. Like pump yourself up in your application. It's a small landscape.
Tracy: I think there's a hard, I love what Jen just said because I think there's a hard balance between that kind of confidence and humility, and I definitely think in the character and fitness space, you want to demonstrate that you've learned something, that you're not going to repeat the same mistakes, et cetera. But there's a point in which you're just, if you're going on and on, you've not done yourself any good. You're not serving yourself. And so you're still advocating for yourself in the application process.
So be thoughtful and judicious about what you share. Like are the facts there? Have you done the who, what, where, when, why, and the lesson learned? And then move on. Like we don't need necessarily the graphic details of every single incident if we get to the heart of the matter in terms of what the incident charge, blah, blah, blah was. And so I think having good judgment about why you're sharing the information is definitely something you want to be thoughtful about in the process, because I think it says something about who you are and your maturity and how closely you're paying attention to the details, but also being thoughtful that for many of these admissions committees, they're reading thousands of applications and they don't want to go on and on and on about anything.
And so get to the point and move on. Like, again, it's kind of like, "Oh yeah, by the way, you may have seen that I have this charge on my record. Here's what happened, here's why, and I learned, paid my fine, served my time, and now I'm ready to be an upstanding citizen and I've not been in trouble since. And now back to my great personal statement about why I'm ready to go to your law school and I'm going to be a great fit." That's literally what you're trying to do. So I think take what Jen said to heart in terms of like, you're going on and on and on, then you're leaving us lingering with like, well, what else did you do and what else happened? You don't want that.
Tajira: Well, with that, I just want to thank my panelists so much for your time this evening. It has been a lively conversation about character and fitness and integrity in the profession, something that always makes me really proud because we want strong integrity in this profession. We want this to have a strong reputation and to be seen as something taken seriously. We want strong advocates out there championing our communities.
With that, I will thank everyone who attended. For our attendees, again, please don't forget that you can drop questions in the discussion forum. I'll be checking them throughout the week, but don't, also, if you happen to be in one of the Discord groups that I'm a part of, you can also message me there, but if you do have a question, do let us know, because we'd love to make sure that we get that answered for you. And this recording will be available via our podcast soon. So again, thank you to my panelists, and everybody have a great night.
J.Y.: Hi, it's J.Y. again. Thank you for listening. As always, if you are studying for the LSAT, applying to law school, studying for your law school exams, or studying for the bar, come visit us at 7Sage.com. We can help.
That's it for this episode. Take care of yourself, and see you next time.