Potential issue applying to law school

I really hope that this is an appropriate place to ask this. I’ve tried a lot of different places and I’m not sure where else to go.

The short version:
Straight to the point, 12 years ago I attended an out-of-state university right out of high school. After one semester, issues with my scholarship (clerical issues) left me unable to enroll in any classes my second semester so I left the school and took $3k worth of debt that I couldn’t afford to pay back.

Six years later and in better financial position, I made the choice (a wrong choice, morally) to not pay the money back and let it drop off my credit report 12 months later, and decided to go back to school (obviously, a different school). I didn’t mention that I attended another school for a semester, so I never transferred my transcript. Two and a half years later, I graduated and moved on and started my career. Since then, however, I’ve found that I really want to attend law school and become an attorney. My question is- will this just automatically disqualify me if I apply to law school and disclose this? I’m assuming that that there’s no real way to fix this, although I’d happily do what I need to in order to rectify things and attend law school. Thank you.

Simply pay off the $3,000 debt and your worries are over.

Old debt will not “disqualify” you from being accepted to law school.

Old, unpaid debt (past due 6 months or more) may disqualify you from C&F (character & fitness) clearance by any, or by each & every, state bar.

P.S. You could probably settle that old debt for less than 50% of the principle amount owed. So your $3,000 problem may be resolved for less than $1,500.

$1,500 is an insignificant amount to pay in order to clean up your past for state bar C&F.

Thank you for taking time to reply! In your opinion, would the one semester that I didn’t transfer to the school that I eventually graduated from going to be an issue as well?

Assuming that you were required to make this disclosure and that you were less than truthful on the application to your second college, then you may have an issue.

Consider consulting an ethics attorney who specializes in bar complaints & bar admission matters in the jurisdiction in which you plan to practice law. Usually these legal specialists worked for the state bar prior to going into private practice.

At this point, your concerns should focus on being honest (full disclosure) on your law school applications and in three years or so on your state bar applications. Best to hire an ethics attorney now before submitting any law school applications as state bars check applicants’ law school applications during the C&F process.

That makes sense. Thank you very much for your insight.

You are welcome.

There is also a National Student Clearinghouse where colleges can check whether there has been any unreported college attendance associated with the student.


I agree with everyone else that you should take steps to clear this up now. I am admitted in both New York and California, and I recall that both states had very detailed questionnaires for the character and fitness stage of admission. The worst thing you could do is say something untruthful in that stage, as that would be perjury. I just googled looking for a description of the character and fitness process and found this pretty thorough discussion on the University of Buffalo site: https://www.law.buffalo.edu/current/barExam/character-and-fitness.html

I think that labeling any misstatement or untruthful statement on a bar application as perjury is a bit extreme. Wouldn’t it have to be knowingly making an untruthful statement under oath about a material matter ?

Regardless, being denied admission to a state bar for knowingly making a false statement would be unwise after investing three years of time and money in law school and a bar exam.

What constitutes the crime of perjury can vary by jurisdiction.

Researching the statutory law on perjury in any particular jurisdiction is not enough as case law interpreting the statute must also be researched.

The law regarding perjury is a bit more complex than most people think.

For example: Checking a box “yes” or “no” and leaving a blank space for explanations and signing under oath may not necessarily constitute perjury. Also, most jurisdictions require a false sworn statement to be material to the matter in order to fall under a perjury statute.

@publisher, I stand corrected (amended?). I probably shouldn’t have used the term “perjury,” I think “lack of candor” would have been a better choice. In any event, the point I wanted to make is that an individual seeking admission to the bar will be asked to respond under oath to questions about things like debt defaults and the general accuracy and completeness of the information provided. It’s not so much the underlying facts but a deliberate misstatement of those facts that could become a serious problem. It’s also possible nothing at all would happen, but it sounds as though the OP is ready to clear things up and wouldn’t want to carry that risk around over the course of a career.

“Simply pay off the $3,000 debt and your worries are over.”

There may be nothing simple about it. This was more than 10 years ago if I’m doing the math (7 years for it to drop off the credit report and then 2.5 years of undergrad?), and depending on what kind of loan it was, the interest, late charges and other fees may have made $3k grow a lot more.

The school may be willing to settle if the school still holds the debt, but it may have been sold to a debt collector and you never know what they will do. Contact the school and see where you stand.

@tkoparent: I think that the issue of whether a false statement under oath on a bar application amounts to perjury will depend upon the jurisdiction and the particular false statement. New York state, for example, seems to have two standards for perjury; one makes the false statement under oath a misdemeanor, while the other standard makes it a felony. In some jurisdictions, making a false statement under oath will not constitute a criminal offense if it is not material to the outcome.

Debt collectors often buy debt for pennies on the dollar so settlement on a debt which has fallen off one’s credit report, and–more importantly–is beyond the applicable statute of limitations, may be settled for a fraction of the total debt alleged.

Settling the debt may not be simple if one alerts the debt collector to the reason the alleged debtor needs to pay off the debt such as “I must pay this off or I cannot become an attorney.” This gives the debt collector new found leverage. But, if one simply states that it is a matter of conscience, then the alleged debtor retains the upper hand in negotiations for debt which has passed beyond the applicable statute of limitations.

OP, consider hiring a properly licensed attorney to handle your concerns.

P.S. My thoughts about use of the term “perjury” amount to an amendment, not a correction.

Of course whether it meets the particular state statute for perjury, I highly doubt a district attorney or states attorney is looking to prosecute a lying on bar application case.

@burghdad: That would be an interesting issue to research.

I have had situations where there have been clearly provable lies in depositions gone to the DA with the evidence and they had no interest in getting involved.

The issue at hand is that law schools want ALL of your previous college courses listed and they (along with Med schools) tend to do a more thorough search on the matter than most undergraduate colleges, and from what I gather (but do not know for sure, other graduate programs ). Also, omission or dishonesty in anything regarding law school and the bar can have more direct and far reaching consequences than with other programs because integrity is a big thing in this process.

That first school likely will not release your transcript until you settle up on the debt. As @Publisher said in his post, there might some negotiation room on the amount, but you would almost certainly have to pay up for them to release that transcript which needs to be submitted with your other college transcripts for your law school application. If those grades are not good, yes, they can detrimentally affect your application. However, you do need to release them.

Though, yes, it is possible that your UG school can get upset about the fact that you did not disclose that first school, I doubt it and no reason to notify them IMO. It’s been my personal experience that getting UG colleges to even acknowledge courses and credits taken at other schools is a struggle. I’ve been involved in that struggle a number of times. They could not have cared less about them. Of course there could be exceptions but I don’t see why you need to bring up the fact that you have courses you didn’t report to your UG school. You can call that school and ask.

Disagree. College #2 may not have accepted OP if they had known about semester #1. In fact, it is probably a near certainty that they would not have accepted OP without a proper transcript from college #1.

Most likely now, years later, they won’t care, but I’d run it up the flagpole just in case. You want to be as squeaky clean as you can for C&F. Who knows, maybe OP will run for office someday. :wink: