Law School Discussion

Disciplinary Action in Law School--C&F?

opal

Disciplinary Action in Law School--C&F?
« on: May 06, 2015, 08:20:20 PM »
I had serious disciplinary issues in law school. I am wondering whether they will impact my C&F determination.

In fall 2013, I had a manic episode and as a result I was placed on University Probation, which lasted for the academic year. In addition, the aggrieved individuals lodged a stay away order against me. Conduct in question was harassing, aggressive, belligerent behavior over the phone, email, and in person.

In May 2014, the probation was lifted. In addition, as of now, the stay away order has been lifted for all but 2 individuals.

In fall 2014, I had another manic episode.  I was charged by my student conduct office with disorderly conduct, creating a community disturbance, failure to comply, and property damage. In addition, while the investigation was ongoing, I was given an interim suspension (not a sanction) and I was banned from campus by the school police. Later, my school gave me the option of doing a medical withdrawal in lieu of going thru the student conduct process and receiving a formal sanction. I am still not allowed on campus without the permission of the Dean.

During the medical withdrawal, I have been treated for bipolar disorder. I am under the care of a psychiatrist (monthly), a psychotherapist (weekly), and a bipolar support group (weekly). In addition, I am volunteering with legal aid in the interim to help show my rehabilitation. I will attempt to reenroll in law school in fall 2015, with the recommendation of my psychiatrist, psychotherapist, psychologist, and support group leader that I am not a danger to myself or others.

loki13

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Re: Disciplinary Action in Law School--C&F?
« Reply #1 on: May 07, 2015, 07:10:49 AM »
opal,

There's a lot to unpack here. So let me start with the basics- you failed to provide one crucial piece of information. What state? Every state has a different bar. Some states' bars are notorious for the C&F (sometimes called moral character and fitness) determinations, some states are a little more lax. So that would help.

Next, your question is whether this will impact the determination. That's easy- yes, it will. It will impact it. The type of impact it will have is the interesting question.

Then there's the issue of re-enrolling. Here's the thing- when you re-enroll, you have to be 150% honest. Go above and beyond. Disclose everything to the law school. Why? Because what kills people with "issues" isn't just the issue, it's the candor. The bar loves that word. They don't like to screw you on the actual issues (for reasons we will discuss shortly), but they will nail you every time if you haven't been candid. Partly it's because you are required to be candid as an attorney. Partly it's because that's one area where the bar can restrict membership easily, and if you've lied or failed to disclose on a law school admission, they can go after you for that.

Now, you'll have to divide the issues into two areas- the legal issues, and the medical issues. While you present them as intertwined, and they are, they present slightly different issues. The legal issues (the stay order, the campus sanctions) are the type of issues that, but for your illness, you'd have to otherwise explain away. The mental illness issue, properly treated, also would not be enough to deny you admission.

But the mental illness issue is further complicated. IIRC, in the last few years, several state bars have come under fire because denying someone solely based on a mental illness may be considered a violation of the ADA. But this is an evolving area of the law.

Arggh... so what does this all mean?
1. Many states have some type of lawyer assistance for attorneys and/or law students who have struggled with mental illness or substance abuse. See if your state has one and contact them. They may be able to help you.
2. Be candid.
3. Be healthy!!!!!!
4. Talk to someone informally in your state who is a practitioner about your issues; maybe a professor at the law school could point you in the right direction (a PR prof?)? You may want to contact an attorney who specializes in bar admissions issues.

I don't want to write any of this to discourage you. Many attorneys have struggled with substance abuse and mental illness, and have not only been accepted by their state bar, but have successful practices. Just make sure you protect yourself.

opal

Re: Disciplinary Action in Law School--C&F?
« Reply #2 on: May 07, 2015, 08:33:13 AM »
I don't know what state I will end up in because I don't have a job lined up.  Possibly PA, but who knows?

loki13

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Re: Disciplinary Action in Law School--C&F?
« Reply #3 on: May 07, 2015, 09:01:07 AM »
opal,

I am not familiar with Pennsylvania. I will assume that you're planning on practicing in the state where you are re-enrolling in law school. Pennsylvania, I believe, is one of the few states that does not specifically ask about mental illness, but does have a catch-all question. In addition, it will be extremely difficult to explain the recent issues you had in law school and the order against you without full disclosure.

At this point, everything you are doing is correct. If your question is a general, "I screwed up, I have been diagnosed as bipolar, can I pass?" then my answer to you is a qualified yes.  (That's going to be a common answer you can give as a practitioner!). Mental illness, alone, will not disqualify you from any Bar so long as you show evidence that you acknowledge the problem, you are treating it, and it will not impact your ability to practice law while treated (which is a little bit of a higher bar than not a danger to yourself or others!).

However, you should be aware that your illness, *combined with your recent conduct in law school* will raise a red flag, and the bar will be reviewing your application very thoroughly. Make sure you have been candid in the past- including your original law school application (and make sure you amend, if necessary). The exact facts and issues are going to be a little complex, and I don't know that you want to get too detailed on a public forum on the internet, so I will repeat my advice to you- talk to an individual familiar with the process in Pennsylvania, confidentially. Clear the first hurdle (get back in school!) and worry about the Bar after after that. Nothing you've written will automatically disqualify you, so long as you remain candid.

opal

Re: Disciplinary Action in Law School--C&F?
« Reply #4 on: May 07, 2015, 09:07:45 AM »
Why do I have to amend my law school application?  All these events happened during law school and the administration is well aware of it.  Not a blemish on my record prior to fall 2013 (no criminal history, no disciplinary action in school, etc.)

loki13

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Re: Disciplinary Action in Law School--C&F?
« Reply #5 on: May 07, 2015, 09:27:03 AM »
opal,

I stated that you need to make sure you have been candid in the past. If you were, then no problem.

Again, every state is different. If there are no "red flags," then most applications, in most states, tend to sail through. Yours--- won't. You have a *recent* stay order against you, as well as disciplinary action against you in law school. For these reasons, it is incredibly likely that the Bar will go through your past more thoroughly.

I added that note as a caution, as I have experience dealing with attorneys seeking admission in a different jurisdiction that have similar issues. It is rare for someone to have issues with mental illness or substance abuse as serious as yours that have caused no problems at all, and then suddenly cause such serious problems in law school. But it does happen. More often, however, they had sporadic issues prior to that, there was a question on the law school application that could have been answered one of two ways (let's say... completely candidly, or a little less candidly), and they chose less candidly. It's no big deal if they amend prior to the process (assuming it's something small).

If this doesn't apply to you, ignore it. And I will reiterate that mental illness, alone, will not be a reason to deny you the license.

opal

Re: Disciplinary Action in Law School--C&F?
« Reply #6 on: May 07, 2015, 09:45:03 AM »
The stay away orders were not done thru a court.  They were done through the school, just to clarify.

What are my chances of getting into a local school as a transfer/exchange student?  I don't want to go back to my original school.  I want to finish my JD at a local law school so I can continue my treatment. 

loki13

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Re: Disciplinary Action in Law School--C&F?
« Reply #7 on: May 07, 2015, 10:07:11 AM »
opal,

Thank you for the clarification! It's certainly better that it was just a school sanction.

Regarding the transfer- eh.... too many factors to consider. Your timeline makes it look like you started in 2013, and didn't quite finish your first semester of your second year. So it would be a decent option just based on time. But you- 1) have disciplinary issues at your prior school, and 2) I would assume that the same issue you had might have prevented you from being at the top of your class?

You can always try. On the plus side, enrollment numbers are way down, so if you're paying full freight somewhere, you might have more of a shot.

opal

Re: Disciplinary Action in Law School--C&F?
« Reply #8 on: May 07, 2015, 10:31:30 AM »
Thanks for all your help, loki.

To clarify, I have already completed two years of law school (58 credits).  So I would like to be a visiting/exchange student at a local school for my third year so I can continue my treatment while completing my degree.  I do not under any circumstances want to return to my original school.  As a visiting student, you get the degree from your original school, and the classes taken at the visitor school are not calculated into your GPA (but you get credit for them).   

Re: grades, I have a 3.006 GPA, though a strong upward trend (~3.5 average for 2L year).  My original school is ~T30 and the schools I want to apply to are TT/TTT.

loki13

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Re: Disciplinary Action in Law School--C&F?
« Reply #9 on: May 07, 2015, 10:57:16 AM »
opal,

That's great info! Visiting student status is very different than a "pure" transfer. One of my good friends did that back in law school (he did his first two years with me on the East Coast, then went to Loyola-LA law as a visiting student for his third year) and it's definitely doable, but fairly rare. That said, it may be something your current school administration would be amenable to, given both your needs (continued stability, etc.) and, perhaps, their needs.

I think you will need to start with a conversation with your current school's administration (some type of Dean of Student, etc., whoever you feel comfortable talking to). It is my general understanding that you would need to be "enrolled" at your current institution (cleared) before you can visit another for your third year. Remember, though, that the administration, despite whatever disagreements you might have had with them, has an interest in your success as well, if for no other reasons than to keep their numbers up.

Good luck!