Yes, You Must Disclose Speeding Tickets (and Lots of Other Words of Advice…)

Well, not every post can be 500 words or less. But, fear not. Behold: our very first “Choose Your Own Adventure” blog. For those of you who find 1400+ words of text about a portion of our application far too taxing and tedious, consider the following haiku:

You must disclose a
Moving violation if
it is not expunged.

And for those of you with slightly longer attention spans, the full, unadulterated post.

Every year we receive a number of questions about various 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 it is easily the section about which there is the most applicant uncertainty. What should you disclose? What shouldn’t you disclose? How should you disclose it? If you have been cited, arrested, prosecuted, etc., how does an admissions committee view such things? These are just a few of the (many) concerns applicants have as they begin the character and fitness portion of our application.

Admittedly, it’s not like admissions officers make this whole application thing easy on you. No two schools seem to ask for the same information. One school cares about moving violations. Another school doesn’t. Do you ever wish this whole process was just a little more standardized? Well, once again, we are here to help. While a single post may not be able to radically transform the largely idiosyncratic nature of the law school admissions process (at least not in time to affect your applicant experience), it can at least help you better understand the sort of information we want in response to Section II, Question 1 of our application.

First and foremost, read closely. As previously noted, it pays to follow the rules. Before you even begin filling out our application, I would encourage you to read the questions and instructions once (and maybe even twice) through. Every law school’s application is slightly (or a lot) 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, whether it’s dissecting endless lines of fine print or drafting documents to be submitted before a court, practicing law is detail-driven profession. Demonstrated inability to heed simple instructions is cause for concern when we contemplate your potential as a member of the legal profession. Treat the application process as the beginning of your legal career. It will save everyone involved a lot of pain, suffering and disappointment.

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)?”

Before you begin, I would encourage you to request a copy of your driving record from the DMV of the state that issued your driver’s license. This information can be easily found on the website of the state in question’s department of motor vehicles. For example, the Commonwealth of Virginia’s page looks a little something like this, and having this information in front of you as you complete Section II, Question 1 of our application is an easy way to make sure you have fully disclosed any and all relevant violations.

Okay, back to the lecture at hand. 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. Did I mention you must disclose speeding tickets?

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 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.

And now the semi-burning question that’s probably been on your mind since you began reading this post: How does the disclosure of such violations affect the consideration of a candidate’s file? 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 it’s 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.”

Best of luck with your application, and, as always, if you have any questions, please feel free to contact us at LawAdm@wlu.edu.

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