Misconduct and Irregularities in the Law School Application Process

What's the fastest way to tank your legal career before it even starts? Being found guilty by LSAC of "misconduct or irregularity" in the application process.

LSAC has a helpful page on its website explaining what that means. In part:

What constitutes misconduct or an irregularity?

The submission, even by mistake, as part of the law school admission process of any information that is false, inconsistent, or misleading, or the omission of information that may result in a false or misleading conclusion, or the violation of any regulation governing the law school admission process, including any violation of LSAT test center regulations.

The kicker? Your intent (or lack thereof) is irrelevant to both the investigation and the findings. LSAC treats "misconduct" and "irregularities" as interchangeable, meaning your misconduct or mistake doesn't have to be willful or intentional to trigger a misconduct finding. LSAC simply isn't going to get bogged down in the fact-finding (or in weighing the evidence) that would be required to determine whether you meant to break the rules or not.

As a practical matter, that approach shifts the burden on you to know what the rules are, and to abide by them. You can't rely on plausible deniability.

How will you know if you're the subject of a misconduct investigation? LSAC won't leave any doubt. They'll send you a notice telling you you're being investigated for misconduct, it will tell you the charges, and it will give you an opportunity to respond and tell your side of things.

According to LSAC, the most frequent allegations of misconduct or irregularities against applicants are:

  • misrepresentation of academic record
  • misrepresentation of information on law school applications
  • altered, non-authentic, or unauthorized letters of recommendation
  • misrepresentation of disciplinary record
  • violation of LSAT testing regulations
  • failure to report prior law school matriculation

As someone who had to initiate misconduct proceedings as an admissions officer, I can tell you that the process is not pretty, and it's not one in which admissions officers take any joy. More importantly for you, the damage isn't restricted just to the school that initiates the misconduct investigation. If you're found guilty of misconduct or an irregularity, "all law schools to which you have applied, will subsequently apply, or have matriculated, and other affected persons or institutions as appropriate, are notified."

LSAC doesn't tell law schools what to do with a misconduct finding, but it can be the kiss of death for some applicants depending on how severe the misconduct was, and you could find yourself effectively blacklisted. In LSAC's words:

If you fail to comply with LSAC's ethical standards, you may be barred from admission to law school. If you fail to disclose required information on your law school application, or if you engage in misconduct during the admission process that is discovered after you enroll in law school or start to practice law, you may face more serious sanctions. In appropriate cases, state and national bar authorities and other affected persons and institutions may also receive notification. Individual law schools and bar authorities determine what action, if any, they will take in response to a finding of misconduct or irregularity. Such action may include the closing of an admission file, revocation of an offer of admission, dismissal from law school through a school's internal disciplinary channels, or disbarment.

So you could face losing your acceptances, being kicked out of law school, or being disbarred if application misconduct comes to light, even years after the fact. That's serious stuff.

A big misconduct "hot spot" happens during and after any LSAT administration. Make sure you follow the test-taking rules and procedures very carefully. If a proctor catches you violating them, he or she can — and probably will — initiate a misconduct proceeding. Misconduct can mean outright cheating, but can also include breaking procedural rules that might seem silly to you (for example by bringing your own scratch paper, a cell phone, or an electronic watch). Here's a longer discussion of LSAT misconduct. If you've been accused of misconduct during the LSAT, it's hard to put that genie back in the bottle, so avoid those problems from the get-go.

Other problems you can still fix, though. Some applicants submit their applications but are then haunted by whatever thing they had "forgotten" to disclose on their applications. For whatever reason, non-disclosure strikes them as a good risk to take before they submit, and then as soon as they hit the "submit" button, they start feeling sick to their stomachs, losing sleep, and wondering if the schools will find out, and what the bar would do down the road if the misconduct comes to light. That's a nasty spiral to find yourself in.

If that describes you, you must update your applications, the sooner the better. If you update your file voluntarily, the original omission and subsequent correction will be far less damaging than if you find yourself caught up in misconduct proceedings or unable to join the bar.

Read more about LSAC's misconduct and irregularities process here and here and here.

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Former Dean of Admissions at the University of Chicago Law School and a recovering lawyer, Anna Ivey founded Ivey Consulting to help college, law school, and MBA applicants navigate the admissions process. You can find more admissions tips in The Ivey Guide to Law School Admissions. Join the conversation here in the blog comments and on Twitter and Facebook, or email us a new question for the blog.