Conditional Admission due to Substance Abuse Issues

There is no question that people make mistakes, that you can learn from these mistakes, overcome your past, and ultimately lead both an enriching and productive professional and personal life.   Lets address Conditional Admission due to Substance Abuse Issues.

During my many years of  private practice after leaving the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, I have represented many law students in bar admission matters who have or had substance abuse issues.  These applicants face many obstacles to become a lawyer, but some can ultimately accomplish this goal.

Generally, the most important component of the Bar Admission process is to fully and truthfully disclose your background. This article focuses on Illinois’ Bar process for Conditional Admission, but other states have similar procedures and rules.  According to the Comprehensive Guide to Bar Admission Requirements of 2020 published by the National Conference of Bar Examiners and the American Bar Association Section of Legal Education Admission to the Bar, 28 States have conditional admission. (including Florida, New Jersey, Indiana, Connecticut, Maryland, Wisconsin, Michigan to name a few).

In all states, the Committee on Character and Fitness scrutinizes an applicant’s criminal history.  Other issues which generally warrant further review by a State’s Character and Fitness include, but are not limited to, academic disciplinary matters, failure to disclose relevant information, lack of truthfulness in college and law school applications, credit problems, traffic issues, and any combination of these referenced concerns. Character and Fitness proceedings are generally private and confidential.

Since 2007 in Illinois, an applicant may receive Conditional Admission to the bar. Until 2007, an applicant seeking admission to the Illinois Bar was either approved or denied. No middle ground existed.  Rule 701 (a) of the Supreme Court Of Illinois Rules on Admission and Discipline provides: “Subject to the requirements contained in these rules, persons may be admitted or conditionally admitted  (emphasis added) to practice law in this State by the Supreme Court if they are at least 21 years of age, of good moral character and general fitness to practice law, and have satisfactorily completed examinations on academic qualification and professional responsibility as prescribed by the Board of Admissions to the Bar or have been licensed to practice law in another jurisdiction and have met the requirements of Rule 705.  Other states with conditional admission have similar guidelines.

Rule 7 of the Illinois Rules of Procedure for the Board of Admissions to the Bar and Committees on Character and Fitness for the State of Illinois specifically details the circumstances which allow for the conditional admittance of a law student to the Illinois Bar. The Rule specifically states that conditional admission is neither to be used as a method of achieving fitness nor as a method of monitoring the behavior of all applications who have rehabilitated themselves from misconduct or unfitness. See Rule 7.2.  Conditional admission may be employed only when an applicant has been engaged in a sustained and effective course of treatment or remediation for a period of time sufficient to demonstrate his or her commitment and progress but not yet sufficient to render unlikely a recurrence of the misconduct or unfitness.  See Rule 7.3.

In order to be eligible for conditional admission, an applicant must still satisfy all the requirements for full admission to the bar and possess the requisite good moral character and fitness, except that he or she is engaged in a sustained and effective course of treatment for or remediation of a) substance abuse or dependence; b) a diagnosed mental or physical impairment that, should it reoccur would likely impair the applicant’s ability to practice law or pose a threat to the public; or c) neglect of financial affairs, that previously rendered him or her unfit for admission to the bar, and the applicant has been engaged in such course of treatment or remediation  for no fewer than 6 continuous months for matters relating to substance abuse, dependence, or mental or physical impairment, and no fewer than 3 continuous months if the subject of remediation is neglect of financial affairs.   See Rule 7.3.

The Supreme Court of Illinois has the final authority to review the recommendation, report, and Consent Agreement for Conditional Admission. Rule 7.11.  Unless the Court orders otherwise, the period of conditional admission shall not exceed 24 months. Rule 7.9.  If the Court determines that the applicant qualifies for Conditional Admission, the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission monitors compliance.  See Rule 7.12.   The Administrator of the ARDC may take such action as is necessary to monitor compliance with the terms of the Consent Agreement. See Rule 7.12.

Due to Confidentiality requirements, statistics concerning the implementation of conditional admission are difficult to obtain.  However,   there is no doubt that Conditional Admission has been successfully implemented.  Law students with substance abuse and/or mental heath issues who qualify under the applicable Rules, who might not otherwise be admitted prior to 2007, can now fully disclose their addiction and treatment without fear of denial of their law license.

Conditional Admission is premised on the belief that someone can have a problem, make mistakes, seek help, and ultimately change their life. A recovered addict is not incapable of being fit to practice law, in fact, quite the opposite.

Why Amending Applications in Law School Is Necessary

Honesty during your law career is important, beginning with law school. Your moral character application is essential to attaining your goal. The value of disclosing your history on a law school application is critical. Being honest and accurate on a law school application can help you be successful. However, if you are not careful to disclose, omit, or forget information, it can negatively affect your law career.

What to Amend on Your Application

On a law school application, the school requires that you are of good character to study law and to pass the Bar. Some issues that schools may look for on the application are

  1. Have you ever been disciplined or been forced to withdraw from a university or college after violating or being accused of violating conduct or honor codes? Being accepted into law school requires that other universities or colleges consider you trustworthy enough to continue with your college or university work. If you fail to disclose this on an application, the law school can Bar you from attending the school or force you to leave. Don’t leave this information out. If you leave this critical information out, amend it as soon as possible. It’s not for you to judge whether you have a legitimate excuse to hide this information, it’s for the law school to decide the factors that will make you a student.
  2. Have you ever been arrested, taken into custody, or had accusation of criminal wrongdoing? Do you have criminal charges pending or expected to be brought against you? While you may think situations such as traffic violations, juvenile offenses, and expunged records don’t matter for law school applications, they are critical. You should still include these on your application and amend your application to include these. When you go to take the Bar exam, your criminal record and the information you give on your law school application are relevant to being able to take the Bar. Maintain copies of your initial application to keep track of what you have written.
  3. Do you have financial problems? Your credit and financial history will sometimes be part of your character and fitness application. As a lawyer, you may be entrusted with your client’s money and you must show your ability to manage money. Financial situations change and an amendment to your law school application, even when in law school, is critical to showing you are trustworthy enough to be a lawyer.
  4. Do you have a history of mental or substance abuse problems? Have you developed these problems in law school? These are difficult and personal questions to be asked. However, these are questions that allow you to demonstrate you are getting help and are responsible enough to be a lawyer.


The consequences of not amending your law school application can lead to serious obstacles to your becoming a lawyer. You should file an amended application to your law school application as soon as you realize there are errors, omissions, or lack of candor in the initial application. Amending your application can demonstrate you are a responsible, trustworthy candidate to be a future lawyer.

Preparing for an ARDC Defense in Chicago

Preparing an ARDC Defense in Chicago can be a trying experience. For lawyers, one of the most terrifying moments is when a client files a complaint. Once the complaint arrives, the next step is to prepare an ARDC defense. While you are trained as a lawyer, you need help from an attorney who concentrates in this field.

Avoid Panicking

Before you start to panic, you should realize that you are not the only person to experience this. Most attorneys who have practiced for a long time will experience this situation at least once. Take a breath, calm down and stay focused. Do not underestimate the potential impact of an ARDC, but also make sure to avoid panicking.

Getting Your Response Ready

Normally, you will have a due date to prepare your response. Before this date passes, make sure that you begin preparing your response. If you need extra time, the investigating authority may grant an extension if you request one. Keep in mind that the disciplinary authority is like the prosecutor. It is up to them to determine if they want to prosecute or not.

Once you receive the grievance, make sure to read it through carefully. In general, you will want to read through it several times so that you understand the client’s viewpoint exactly. Although you have acted ethically and according to the law, it is always possible that the client’s case will have merit. Even if the case has merit, it does not mean that you violated any ethics rules. To make sure that you have not violated any rules, get an objective opinion from someone else.

As you prepare a response, keep in mind that it may take several times. You may need to create multiple drafts as you try to directly address the conduct in the ARDC defense case Chicago. Stay objective and avoid getting defensive. If you have any documents that may help, attach them to the response even if they are already on file. At the end of your response, ask for the case to be dismissed.

Retain Counsel

Your best chance of getting the grievance dismissed is during the response stage. Before you turn in the response, you will want to retain disciplinary defense counsel. While many attorneys dislike spending money to hire someone else for legal matters, it is the best thing that you can do to handle the investigation. Find someone who is familiar with case law, disciplinary rules and procedure. Once this is done, submit the response and wait for your decision. Only a handful of these cases results in disciplinary measures, so be patient.