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.