True Confessions (or "Do I Really Need to Tell Them About That?")
Bar examiners and prospective employers are increasingly asking for more information about your past as part of their "due diligence" before either certifying you for practice or hiring you as a permanent employee. Recent lapses in background verification, such as one well-publicized event at a local Twin Cities law firm, have raised warning flags for bar examiners and hiring authorities throughout the legal community. In addition, law schools are often asked by bar certification authorities for copies of an applicant's previous application to law school to compare with the paperwork submitted in support of bar admission. Discrepancies can get you in trouble with both the bar and your law school.
What to do? Our blanket advice is simple: "When in doubt, disclose." None of us has a completely pristine past and, for the most part, except for felony convictions, what happened when you were a rambunctious junior in high school won't keep you from the job of your dreams. That said, if there is anything that you think would give a reasonable person pause before allowing you to represent clients and collect a pay check, say so early on. At a minimum, you will be able to begin to address any concerns, apparent or real, that might preclude you from practicing law well in advance. You will also appear responsible, mature and, yes, professional. If you need background documentation, collect it before you disclose so that you can quickly provide answers to requests for more information. If you cannot obtain such documentation, explain as much about the circumstances as possible in detail, as well as why you can't provide paperwork at this time.
Finally, remember that, until you are admitted to the bar or officially hired, you are usually under a continuing duty to disclose information. In other words, if you get arrested the night before the bar exam on a DUI charge, you better let someone at the board of law examiners know, however embarrassing that may seem.