Before you can practice law in any U.S jurisdiction, you must go through that state’s admissions process, including the Character and Fitness process. Some states require that you submit this application before you can take the bar exam and other states allow you to submit it after. Be sure to check what the exact policy is in the state you are applying for.
The Character and Fitness application is the ultimate background check to make sure you are morally fit for the practice of law.
Here are some tips to get through the Character and Fitness process:
Candor is critical
Honesty is not just the best policy, it’s the only policy when it comes to answering Character and Fitness questions. Candor is key.
The Character and Fitness application can vary by jurisdiction, but you will typically be asked to disclose:
- Criminal and civil violations, including everything from convictions, traffic tickets that led to fines, or drivers’ license suspension
- Academic details including attendance records
- Exact addresses of where you have lived
- Compliance with court orders
- Mental health or substance abuse issues
- Financial history including irregularities with regard to student loans, past-due accounts, and more
- Employment history including any disciplinary actions during employment or in other professional situations
Don’t panic if you have something to report. Being candid during the character and fitness process can show that you have accepted responsibility for your actions. By doing this, it shows that you have no immediate issues pending.
For other questions about what to include in your character and fitness application, you can contact the bar examiners in the state in which you plan to take the bar exam.
Information you included in your law school application addendums will be compared to what is found in your bar application and independent review. Nothing will send up a red flag to a Character and Fitness committee more than discovering you failed to disclose any past misconduct in your application.
If the Character and Fitness process raises concerns about your character, the bar admissions board may conduct a more in-depth investigation. Usually, this is a face-to-face interview in which you will be required to produce evidence demonstrating current good moral character.
Project a positive presence
Your social behavior and the image you convey online are extremely important. Before entering the bar application process, or law school, make sure nothing you present publicly would question your character.
Your social media presence should not raise any concerns about your character, professionalism, integrity, or overall fitness to join the legal community. Take the opportunity to clean up anything that could be perceived as a red flag.
Give yourself time
The Character and Fitness process can be extensive, so give yourself enough time to gather the required information.
Check out more information about the bar admissions process here.