Can Felons Become Lawyers?

Individuals who have been through the legal system as defendants have likely been in the company of a lawyer. Defendants often have very polarizing opinions regarding the quality of their lawyer’s competence. Many feel that they were well represented, and that their lawyer played a positive role in their court proceedings. Others feel that they lawyers undermined their case and are the reason for an unfavorable sentence.

Both of these instances can cause a defendant to want to become a lawyer. Defendants with good defense may wish to help others the way that they were helped. Defendants with bad defense may want to become a beacon of hope for defendants up against a life-changing sentence.

Because of this experience, felons may wonder if it is possible for them to be on the other side of a courtroom, as a lawyer. This may seem out of reach because of the already-thin job market for felons. It is, however, possible for a felon to become a lawyer. In fact, they don’t even have to follow more steps than a non-felon. However, the completion of each these of steps are inarguably more difficult for a felon than an individual without a criminal record.

The College Degree

The vast majority of law schools will require a candidate to possess a college degree of some type before applying. There are very few that will allow admission to non-graduates, and even these are not ABA accredited. Schools without ABA accreditation aren’t recognized by most states, and thus don’t qualify an individual to take the BAR exam.

Getting a college degree is a necessary first step for a felon wishing to become lawyers. Unfortunately, not many felons have degrees before going to prison. In fact, 41% of federal and state inmates dropped out before 12th grade. This is more than double the rate of the general population[1]. Because of this, potential lawyers often have to go to college post-incarceration.

Getting accepted to college can be a challenge for felons. Some universities will perform a thorough background check and make early decisions based on an individual’s background. Many, however, will admit felons regardless of their past. These universities aim to provide felons with the ability to make a change in their lives for the better.

Once accepted, a felon still must find a way to pay for college. If they have recently been incarcerated, they will likely not have had the chance to make and save up money for college. Financial aid is available from the government but is denied to certain types of felons. Felons who are disqualified may consider a private student loan.

A felon who has completed their GED or high school equivalent before or during prison can apply for college as soon as they are released. Those without a high school education will need to complete their GED before they apply.

The Law Degree

Law schools are a bit tougher to get accepted to, for felons and non-felons alike. This is because these institutions care far more about an individual’s moral character than undergraduate universities. For a felon, this can prove especially difficult to explain.

Felons should expect to be questioned about their felony on their law school application. The vast majority will ask, and many will ask for an explanation. It’s important to be honest, but felons shouldn’t feel the need to over-divulge about the crime itself. These questions are likely looking for how a person has changed and bettered themselves in the time since the crime. There

Once a felon is accepted to a law program, they must endure 3 years of difficult coursework like everybody else. During this time many students take the MPRE, an ethics-based component of the bar exam[2]. Passage of this test is necessary for a lawyer to be sworn in. The rest of the bar exam must typically be taken post-graduation[3].

The Bar Exam

The bar exam is standardized across roughly half of the United States. Most of the independent states, however, have a largely similar process to those using the UBE, the standardized bar test.

The bar exam takes place over the course of two days. On the morning of the first day, the examinee will be subject to legislative-related essay questions (titled the MEE). The afternoon involves a more hands-on approach with the MPT portion of the bar. This test evaluates fundamental law protocol in a practical setting. The second day is all multiple choice![4] These questions will span a variety of topics, so it’s important to study a broad range of curriculum.

After a long 9-10 week wait, results from the bar exam are published and potential lawyers are made aware of if they can move forward in the process. If they happen to fail the exam, there is no need to fear; they can retake the exam whenever the next exam is offered. If this is the case, it is advised to take the next available exam to ensure that knowledge is not lost.

Character and Fitness Interview

The character and fitness interview is the final component of becoming sworn in as a lawyer. This is typically a breeze for the general population. However, for felons, this isn’t the case.

Felons should expect to receive plenty of questions about their criminal past. Honesty is important, and just like in the application process, it is important to discuss how the individual has changed since then[5]. Discussing rehabilitation is highly important and can drastically sway the opinion of the interviewees. It also helps to discuss ways in which an individual has positively benefited their community. Truthfulness and honesty are very important here. It’s lawyers conducting the interview after all.

Becoming a Professional Lawyer

After going through all the preliminary steps to become a licensed lawyer, the ultimate step is landing a job as a professional lawyer. This can be done in a variety of ways. An individual can aim to go out and become a lawyer on their own, but this will be difficult without any prior experience. One of the most common first positions is with a law firm. For a law firm, an individual will likely begin by doing fairly monotonous tasks. This includes things like completing paperwork and filing documents with the court. This isn’t typically exciting work, but it is necessary to begin practicing law in a law firm.

After a finite period of time, an individual will be given full responsibilities as a lawyer. This includes having their own cases and taking on their own clients. This is when all of the hard work begins to pay off, and an individual can finally enjoy the benefits of being a true professional lawyer.


The road to becoming a lawyer is long and twisting, especially for a felon. However, it is far from impossible.

Many felons go through the criminal justice system with the belief that it is a broken entity. Luckily, with a few years and hard work, they can work to improve this system as licensed lawyers. They will likely have a more difficult time than non-felons, particularly due to bias from the law-minded governors of the necessary programs. However, it is entirely possible.






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