by Brett Twitty
Every year we receive a number of questions about different aspects of our application, but Section II, Question 1 seems to inspire the most emails, phone calls and general anxiety. This is the portion of our application that addresses prior arrests, citations, prosecutions, etc., and I thought it would be helpful to address a few of the most common queries here.
We know that we admissions officers don’t exactly make this whole application thing easy on you. It seems like every school asks for slightly different information. One school cares about moving violations. Another school doesn’t. What’s an applicant to do?
First and foremost, read closely. Before you even begin filling out our application, I would encourage you to read the questions and instructions once through. Every law school’s application is slightly different from the next, and we regularly receive applications that completely disregard our instructions and formatting requirements. Inattention to basic detail is a factor we consider in evaluating your application because lawyers are charged with enforcing rules (many of which are written in fine print). A demonstrated inability to heed simple instructions is cause for concern when we contemplate your potential as a member of the legal profession.
On to Section II, Question 1. It reads:
“Have you ever been cited, ticketed, taken into custody, arrested or prosecuted for, or charged with, any violation of law (other than (i) citations for parking violations and (ii) arrests, charges or convictions that have been expunged in accordance with statutory provisions on expungement in the applicable jurisdiction)?”
With respect to non-automotive issues, you are required to report an incident unless it has been expunged from your record in accordance with statutory provisions on expungement in the applicable jurisdiction.
In the automotive realm, we don’t care about parking tickets (a relief to a great many of you, no doubt), but we require that you disclose moving violations. I repeat: Disclose moving violations – speeding tickets (and all other types). We know this differs from some other law schools. To summarize: We want to know about everything EXCEPT parking tickets and any arrests, charges or convictions that have been expunged. Unless your particular infraction falls into either of the two aforementioned categories, you will need to disclose the offense on your application.
However, applicants are sometimes unsure about whether a particular violation was actually expunged. If you find yourself in such a predicament, I would encourage you to go ahead and report it. And this axiom extends beyond this Section II, Question 1. With respect to all the questions asked in Section II of our application, we recommend the following approach: When in doubt, disclose. Not quite sure if that open container violation was expunged? Disclose. Not sure if that reckless driving charge is still on your record? Disclose. You get the idea.
If you answer “yes” to any of the questions in Section II, you have an opportunity to explain in full detail the circumstances surrounding the infraction as well as its adjudication and resolution. (As our application instructions indicate, “If you answered ‘yes’ to Questions 1-9, please electronically attach a full, detailed explanation including all relevant, details.”) We prefer to have as much information as possible when making an admissions decision, and we encourage you to provide us with as detailed an explanation of the offense in question as you can. If exact details are unavailable, disclose as much as your records and your memory allow.
As you may already know, Boards of Bar Examiners may require submission of law school applications as part of your application for admission to the bar. Any incongruity between your bar application – which is likely to require far more information than our application – and the offenses, infractions, citations, arrests, etc. covered under the language of Section II, Question 1 will likely be cause for heightened scrutiny. If you decide that our application does not require disclosure of a particular event, give careful thought to the prospect of defending that decision before the Board of Bar Examiners.
We know, from the countless emails and phone calls we receive each year, there is a great deal of applicant anxiety about this portion of our application. While it is difficult to generalize in admissions matters (given their largely subjective nature), it is exceedingly rare that disclosure (even of multiple infractions) under Section II Question 1 of our application precludes an applicant from viable consideration for admission. We encourage you to conduct yourself with complete transparency in all aspects of the application process and disclose any and all such offenses, even if you think its a close call. From our standpoint, revealing infractions early in the process is infinitely preferable to waiting until late in the admissions cycle to offer the required disclosure. Eleventh hour revelations of prior citations or arrests are often cause for considerable concern.
At the risk of belaboring the point: We fear some students are advised to withhold disclosure until after receiving an offer of admission – we urge you in the strongest terms to disregard this erroneous, yet no doubt well-intentioned, guidance. This strategy is much more transparent than you might think, and an applicant’s apparent willingness to “game the system” is a factor we weigh, along with the incident(s) disclosed, as we reconsider an augmented file.
If you’ve already submitted your application, please note that you have an ongoing duty to update your file. When you sign and submit your application, you acknowledge that you have “a continuing duty to inform the Office of Admissions (during the period between the date of the application submission and either your withdrawal of your candidacy, a final and adverse decision on your application or matriculation) or the Associate Dean for Student Services (between the period between my matriculation and graduation) of any fact, event or circumstance that would make any information provided no longer accurate and complete.”
And in conclusion, we urge you to consider the application process the beginning of your legal career, and we encourage all applicants to read our thoughts on professionalism and its critical role in the application process before applying to W&L Law. Best of luck with your application, and, as always, if you have any questions, please feel free to contact us at LawAdm@wlu.edu.