Can I still become a solicitor with a drink driving conviction?

Dear Oracle

I am a second-year law student currently serving a two-year driving disqualification for drunk-driving. Could this conviction prevent me from becoming a corporate lawyer?

The Oracle replies

Unfortunately, it is possible that your conviction will affect your progress into law. Before commencing a training contract, you must submit to a character and suitability test by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA). This requires you to disclose any convictions you have, extending even to any police cautions that you may have received. The SRA divides offences into three categories. It guarantees that it will reject applicants who fall under the most severe category, which includes any offence for which the applicant received a custodial or suspended sentence. The second category covers court convictions which did not carry a custodial or suspended sentence – with any offence under the second category meaning that the SRA is “more likely than not” to reject the application. The third and least severe category covers offences for which the SRA “may” refuse an application – these include police warnings and cautions.  

The SRA decides each application on a case-by-case basis, however, so you won't know the outcome until you actually apply. When you submit your application, you should include details of the conviction, including at least one independent report relating to the event (eg, sentencing remarks), as well as independent references, evidence of any rehabilitation and so on.

Clearly, your conviction does not fall into the most severe category, but nonetheless the SRA may still decide to refuse your application because of it. Drink driving is a common offence, but not all cases are the same. One glimmer of hope however - when the Oracle published a similar question in 2011, it received a comment from an individual who had been in your precise situation, but had disclosed it to the SRA, which went on to grant her student membership. She did advise submitting early however – so be up front and contact the SRA with your issue as soon as possible, as this offence does not relate to any form of dishonesty, which would make your application be refused outright.

For further guidance or clarification, head to the SRA's website, where you can find more information and contact details.

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