Just When You Thought There Were Enough Lawyers: Can Felons Become Lawyers?

A topic that is becoming increasingly popular across the United States is whether convicted felons should be allowed to receive a law license. Over the past decade, the acceptance of convicted felons becoming a licensed attorney is increasing. Since the 1930s, states have used character and fitness tests to determine if an applicant is fit to become a licensed attorney. About half of the states use The National Conference of Bar Examiners to conduct these character and fitness tests, while the other half of states conduct their own investigations. Regardless of who is conducting this test, the standards to successfully pass are very rigorous.

The National Conference of Bar Examiners and other states who conduct their own investigations are in a predicament when it comes to this situation. While those that conduct these tests do not want to prevent people who have successfully rehabilitated from making a career for themselves, they also do not want to be to lenient and give too many licenses away to the wrong people. Erica Moeser, the former executive director of the National Conference of Bar Examiners was recently quoted, “We don’t want to be draconian and bar people from having another chance in life, but we don’t want licenses to wind up in the hands of people who can do damage.”

Tara Simmons, a former drug addict who was incarcerated twice and also went bankrupt, is a perfect example of this dilemma. After being released from prison for her second time, Simmons went on to attend and successfully graduate (with honors) from Seattle University School of Law. Upon graduation, the Washington State Bar Licensing Panel denied her application to sit for the bar exam. As a result, Simmons appealed this ruling to the Washington State Supreme Court. Simmons arranged for a former felon himself, Shon Hogwood, to represent her in front of the Washington State Supreme Court. After hearing the arguments of each side, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled that Simmons is allowed to sit for the bar exam this upcoming February.

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