It goes without saying that getting academically dismissed from law school can be a humiliating experience. Regardless of what the circumstances were that caused your dismissal, whether it be an unexpected life emergency that threw you off course or just a sheer lack of preparation, getting dismissed sucks. Sadly, the worst part about dismissal isn’t the embarrassment you may face, instead it’s the lack of information regarding how to get enrolled back into law school. Other than a few vague articles discussing re-admittance policies, there’s not much information out there regarding practical steps you can take to gain re-admission. So here you are reading this post in hopes of finding answers to this question. Considering the lack of information out there, I don’t know whether I have the ability to do this topic justice. However, I will try my very best to de-mystify this issue and bring you at least a step closer to getting back on track to achieving that J.D. you covet.
So what’s the first thing you should do after being academically dismissed? At the risk of sounding like your typical law professor, the first thing you should do is “read the rules!” The American Bar Association outlines the rules that all schools should apply in considering a student for re-admission after a dismissal. According to Standard 501 of the ABA Standards:
“A law school shall not admit or readmit a student who has been disqualified previously for academic reasons without an affirmative showing that the prior disqualification does not indicate a lack of capacity to complete its program of legal education and be admitted to the bar.”
But what does that even mean? How does one make an affirmative showing that their dismissal is not based on an inability to complete their legal education? I was just as confused after reading this rule so I looked into how schools have defined this “affirmative showing.” Although my findings were scant at best, the Nova Southeastern law school and the Southern Methodist University law school (SMU) both indicate that a showing of external factors can satisfy this affirmative showing requirement.
Nova stating that, a student gaining readmission must include in their personal statement: “information that shows that external factors, not lack of ability created a barrier to their success in law study.”
Whereas SMU states that a student attempting to gain readmission must show that their dismissal was caused by a serious, unanticipated disruption which was unrelated to the student’s capacity to complete the required course of study successfully.
So this brings us to step 1:
1. External Factors
If you are seeking readmission to law school after an academic dismissal, you must show that your initial dismissal was based on external factors and not your inability to handle the coursework. Law school can sometimes cause students to have tunnel vision. It’s very easy to lose sight of the fact that life still goes on despite your coursework stresses. Therefore, when something major happens in life, i.e. physical or mental illness, the death of a family member or extreme financial loss, it’s very easy to get thrown off track. This is understood. If an external factor is what caused your academic dismissal, schools will generally be understanding of this situation. Just make sure to be clear about the external issue that caused you to lose focus. However, it’s even more important to show the admissions department that you have made the necessary steps to rehabilitate this issue and that you no longer foresee it as an inhibiting factor. We will discuss rehabilitation further in the next section.
So what happens if your academic dismissal was not based on external factors? I won’t lie to you, this makes it a lot more difficult to gain readmission. However, readmission may still be possible, if you can prove that you are rehabilitated and now possess the capacity to complete the legal coursework. Which brings me to the next step.
If you were academically dismissed based on non-external factors, it will be important to prove that during your period of dismissal you were rehabilitated and now possess the capacity to complete the legal coursework. If you fall into this category, it will be important to understand the root cause of why you went off track. Were you just not mature enough at the time to handle the professional law school environment or was the work load just too difficult? Whatever the reason, I would recommend maybe working a full time job during your dismissal period to show that you can survive in a professional environment. I would also recommend maybe getting a tutor who may be able to guide you through the 1L coursework that you failed. We offer an excellent tutoring service through the Law School Toolbox, so be sure to check it out.
You may now be wondering when is a good time to re-apply to law school after an academic dismissal? Is just a few months of rehabilitation sufficient or will you be required to wait a few years? This brings me to my last step:
3. Re-apply within the School’s Required Timeline
Standard 505 of the ABA rules used to provide that an academically dismissed student would have to wait two years before seeking re-admission to law school. However, in 2014 this language was removed from the rules. Therefore, as far as I could find, it appears that this timeline is now left up to a law school’s discretion. Therefore, if you have been academically dismissed, it’s important that you decide early on which school you would like to gain admission to on the next try. Once you decide this, contact that school directly to determine their policy for admission of academically dismissed students. There’s a possibility that these schools may still have a two-year requirement in place or they may have done away with this requirement like the ABA rules. Whatever the case, find out early on.
If you have been academically dismissed, I know you’re going through a difficult time. I hope these tips can help you to get back on track!
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