Law School Discussion

Law Firms - Background Check?

Law Firms - Background Check?
« on: July 08, 2005, 07:20:29 AM »
I've been admitted to several tier 2 schools.  I secured a defferment from one and will be traveling overseas for a year. 

I'd hope to one day work for a law firm (larger, medium, the best I could get).  I was just arrested for DUI (0.12).  I have representation so maybe it will be reduced to a DWAI.  Regardless, I need to report the arrest on the New York State Bar application. I also had my license suspended before for failing to show for a speeding ticket, but I got that taken care of. As long as nothing like this happens again I'm pretty confident I'll pass the bar and probably keep my seat at the law school.  But how does this bode for my employment prospects? 

Do law firms and clerkships look for this kind of thing?  Am I doomed to be passed over? I don't want to bust ass in law school and end up being a DUI Defense Lawyer.   What can those applying to big firms and clerkships tell me about the background checks?  Is my this criminal record of mine going to be in LexiNexus now?

I haven't been able to sleep or eat for a week.

Re: Law Firms - Background Check?
« Reply #1 on: July 08, 2005, 07:54:16 AM »
Sorry to hear about your situation.  My thoughts here are based only on limited personal experience and anecdotal evidence.  I feel fairly confident in saying that a DUI will not be an absolute bar to a bright, successful career as an attorney for you.  You presumably will be asked about any criminal record in applying for jobs.  Additionally, many firms (as well as many employers generally) do run a criminal background and credit history check.  The best thing you can do is be *extremely* well prepared with an explanation of the circumstances, why it happened, why it will never happen again, and what you learned from the experience to take forward with you.  You're probably right in that this may prevent you from working for some firms.  My guess would be that particularly prestigious firms (Cravath, etc) may care more than others because they're always looking for ways to differentiate students.  However, I would bet a lot of money that in any given firm of more than 100 attorneys there are probably more than a handful of functioning alcoholics, and presumably at least a few of those may have been caught for DUI at some point in their lives.  One final thought, if you do manage to swing a summer associate gig somewhere, I would be very very selective about when you drink at social events and how much.  Better to come off as totally reformed than to give anyone a reason to think you've got a more serious substance abuse problem.

Re: Law Firms - Background Check?
« Reply #2 on: July 12, 2005, 02:32:21 PM »
My case is being plead down to a DWAI.  Which is a traffic violation but unfortunately will still leave me with a RapSheet for the arrest.  I'm expecting a $300 fine.

Has anyone who has been applying to Law Firms or Clerkships have any insight to offer.  Are they asking if you've ever been arrested?  Conducting a background check?

Re: Law Firms - Background Check?
« Reply #3 on: July 12, 2005, 10:05:23 PM »
I'm not sure about firms but for the bar exam they will ask whether you have ever been convicted of any misdemeanors or felonies.  Am I right in assuming that even though you plead to a DWAL (what does that stand for?) this is a misdemeanor and not an infraction? 

As for law schools I don't imagine you would have to disclose anything unless they asked (assuming you have already gone through the application process). 

Finally if you plan to work in  DA's office this will likely have some sort of bearing (they are generally very stringent) and I would imagine this would go for the PD's office too.  But all in all it shouldn't be something that will be impossible to overcome.

For law firms I really don't know but all the best and I'm sure worse things have happened to worse people.

Re: Law Firms - Background Check?
« Reply #4 on: July 13, 2005, 04:07:04 AM »
At most law schools, you are under a continuing obligation to disclose anything that they asked you about initially when you applied. You should check into this.

As for law firms, I would guess they will ask about any arrests or convictions and probably do a criminal history check.

Re: Law Firms - Background Check?
« Reply #5 on: July 13, 2005, 05:46:39 AM »
I work for a law firm where we have had problems with clients not mentioning prior arrests when they were going for background checks for guardianships and bond applications.  What I have learned is this - DO NOT LIE!  if they ask on the application, put yes.  WHen it comes up have an explanation.  It is a simple as that.  People think they won't get caught, but you will, and if you lied, you are immediately disqualified.  They don't care if the lie was about jaywalking and you were embarrassed - they see your integrity in the situation and that you will lie when asked to speak the truth.  HTH

Re: Law Firms - Background Check?
« Reply #6 on: July 13, 2005, 06:23:22 AM »
Background Checks are regulated by the FCRA.  Each state has their own set of laws about what may and what may not be reported to potential employers.  Many states DO NOT allow the reporting of arrest information.  Provided you are not convicted of the charge and depending on where you live, employers may not be able to use that information against you.  On the other hand, if you do not admit it up front (application) you would be falsifying a company document and be terminated.  Regardless of conviction, if it is only a misdemeanor charge, it becomes not reportable after a period of 7 years.


Re: Law Firms - Background Check?
« Reply #7 on: July 14, 2005, 07:56:44 AM »
of conviction, if it is only a misdemeanor charge, it becomes not reportable after a period of 7 years.

Where does that information come from?

What is FCRA?

I will probably move to a state where I'm most protected.

DWAI - Driving While Ability Impaired is a Traffic Violation in New York State.

That is what I plead to.  I wasn't swerving on the road.  I didn't cause any accidents.  The probable cause for stopping me was speeding.  Which, was trumped up.  I most certainly was not speeding.  The young cop just wanted to stop people at 2am.  Regardless fighting the charges and getting the judge to toss the probable cause would have been a gamble I did not want to lose.

Re: Law Firms - Background Check?
« Reply #8 on: July 14, 2005, 09:38:45 AM »
Traffic violations are possibly considered dumb mistakes at best. I for one do have something to worry about....I have two misdemeanors on my record. One was resisting arrest and the other was trespassing. At the time I was not provided a lawyer...I was told to plead guilty...I was homeless at the time...etc.

The reality is that there are bad laws on the books, what is moral is not always legal. Most lawyers know this and understand this. Hopefully if one is honest and non-defensive in their explanations there should be few problems.

If anything, a JD should give someone standing if they work to get rid of a bad law because far to often people are criminalized simply for trying to survive.

rant over.

Re: Law Firms - Background Check?
« Reply #9 on: July 14, 2005, 10:58:50 AM »
FCRA is the Fair Credit Reporting Act and it regulates what background check companies can report to potential employers. 

The State only matters at the time of the offense.  At the time, you claimed to live in NY.  Employment law in NY prohibits employers from inquiring about previous arrest info, however they may inquire about previous convictions.  Also, a employer is prohibited from denying employment on account of a criminal record unless there is a direct relationship between the offense and the job or if the offense would indicate that you're an unreasonable risk.

This is all NY employment law.  NY also states that convictions may not be reported after a period of 7 years, unless the individual will have an annual salary of over 25k. 

Bottom line: don't worry about the arrest and avoid the conviction at all costs.