The reality is that in New York a criminal record is not a bar to admission. Indeed, a criminal charge that would get a lawyer disbarred may not keep a bar applicant from being admitted. The real test is – what was the character of the crime and how did the applicant grow or change subsequent to engaging in that crime?
Our office was able to get an applicant admitted to practice in New York despite having been imprisoned on a felony conviction for a drug-based crime that involved the use of a handgun. A crime of this nature (drugs, guns, and the gross disregard for the safety of others), would ordinarily cause an applicant to be rejected out of hand. However, in this case, we were able to demonstrate that the applicant had done a 180-degree turnaround from the time of his conviction.
The Character Committee decided that we were able to prove, despite the applicant’s past conduct, that the applicant possessed the requisite level of fitness to be admitted at the time of the Character Committee review.
So, can you get admitted with a criminal record? The answer is “possibly.” Where the acts are simple, isolated, and prior to law school, there is a good chance. Where the conviction is for fraud, theft, or other acts of dishonesty; or for multiple crimes or crimes that show a clear disrespect for the law and the rights and welfare of other people, it is a tougher hurdle. But, it can be done with the right amount of mitigation, acceptance of responsibility, and making sure you take the correct approach when filling out your application for admission and when you appear before the Character Committee.