Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Charactor and Fitness Review

This is honestly something you need to think about before entering law school.  I have copied this from another fabulous blog at, in it's entirety.  Shout out to this author.  I was going to write something similar myself, but the author did a complete and accurate job.

FROM:  Law Student 101:  Understanding the Moral Character and Fitness Application

For July bar examinees, application deadlines are fast approaching.  Those deadlines include the application for a determination of the examinees’ moral and character fitness to practice law.  Some states require that it be submitted simultaneously with the exam application, while others, such as California, allow submission at any time.  Though it can be a daunting form, it is extremely important that applicants take it seriously and answer every question with complete honesty.

Gather Information

First time bar applicants are usually surprised that the moral character and fitness process is such an extensive background screening.  Considering that questions, such as employment history, may require responses going back to the applicant’s 18th birthday, some of the information may be distant memory. How many of us remember our supervisor’s name from a part-time job at the GAP freshman year of college?  It is important that applicants read the entire application before answering any of the questions.  The applicant should gather all of the requested information so that everything is available for references as the application is completed.  Some of the same information may be called for in different questions.

Complete and Honest Disclosure

You cannot get away with dishonesty on bar applications.  Failure to answer truthfully and fully is a sure way to be denied admission.  The examiners really do check all of the information you provide.  This is why in some states a moral character determination can take up to six months (a reason you should not delay in submitting the application).  Telling half-truths and omitting information will only raise flags for investigators and could result in a formal inquiry, during which you will have to appear before the moral character committee and explain problems or discrepencies they uncovered.  The applications allow for attachments or addendums, and if there is an issue the applicant feels will draw concerns, such as delinquent debt or past crimes, he/she should attach an explanation.

History That May Cause Problems

The author of this blog post is admitted to practice in two states, both of which have notoriously rigorous moral character standards and investigations.  From colleagues, I have heard a variety of horror stories, and it seems there is no consistency as to what will invoke a formal inquiry or rejection.  For example, colleagues who left school with massive credit card debt, sometimes delinquent, had no problem getting through the process (because they were completely honest and had an explanation), while another colleague, already admitted in one state, had to submit to a hearing because of a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, which was entirely related to medical bills—the debts had even been paid in full by the time he applied for Florida admission; though he passed the Florida bar exam on his first attempt, it was almost a year after before he was granted admission.  Nevertheless, there are a few issues that will definitely cause problems, such as crimes of moral turpitude, like theft or embezzlement, violent crimes, and academic dishonesty.  There is not a solid definition for “crimes of moral turpitude,” but rest assured that if the crime involved dishonesty or harm to another person, it certainly would be included.

Applicants always worry about DUI’s and possession of marijuana, two of the most commonly committed crimes in the United States.  These are probably not crimes of moral turpitude.  They are crimes of poor decision making.  Check with your state bar examiners.  Depending on how recent the crime was committed, it may not be a concern.  However, if the applicant failed to complete the sentence, he/she will have a difficult time being approved.  Again, complete disclosure is necessary– failture to disclose a DUI for example, is a sure way to delay the approval process.  As for crimes committed during adolescence for which adjudication was withheld or a plea of nolo contendere was entered, read the question carefully.  The question “have you been convicted of a crime” is very different from “have you ever been charged with a crime.”

Debt is another area that bar applicants worry about.  Again, there is not a consistent approach among the states, or even within a state.  Bar examiners know that every law student in America leaves school with substantial student loan debt and, often, significant credit card debt.  The bar committees want to make sure that you are responsible with debt.  Thus, delinquent or “charged off” credit accounts may draw further questions, but even those can be overcome with an adequate explanation and a plan to solve the debts.  However, take as caution the case of an Ohio bar applicant.  Recently, the Ohio bar denied admission to a man who had defaulted on student loans and had $16,000 in delinquent credit cards.  The irony, of course, is that without bar admission, he can’t work as a lawyer, and without work, he will never be able to clear the debts.

Follow Up

Most states require that applicants continue to supplement applications for a period of time, usually six months.  Don’t neglect this duty.  If you are requested for an inquiry, consider hiring an attorney with experience in bar disciplinary matters.

Finally, be aware that the cost of the application is far from the only cost you will incur when completing the application.  It may be necessary to gather official transcripts from colleges, copies of court records, credit reports, driving license abstracts, MPRE score reports, etc.  These all cost money to obtain.  You should also submit the application via FedEx, UPS, or certified mail so that you will have delivery confirmation.

Good luck!

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