After working hard through college and law school, you're looking ahead to applying to the bar and taking the bar exam before beginning your professional career. When you apply to the bar, you'll have three basic steps to complete:
- Apply to sit for and taking the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE),
- Applying to sit for and taking your state's Bar Exam, and
- Completing your state's character and fitness process.
While you spend most of law school preparing for the MPRE and the bar exam, nothing really prepares you for the level of in-depth probing you will experience as part of your state's character and fitness process. It's a necessary process before your admission to the bar and your ability to practice law. Still, it can be invasive, and many people and educational institutions will need to confirm your character and fitness to practice law. As part of this process, your law school's dean will need to certify your character and fitness.
State Bar Character and Fitness Application
You will apply for admission to the bar through your state's board of bar examiners. While the applications and deadlines vary from state to state, the National Conference of Board Examiners website can give you an idea of the bar exam structure and the deadlines for much of the process. As part of this process, you will need to go through your state bar's character and fitness application. Each applicant to the bar has to provide evidence of their good moral character, honest demeanor, and requisite fitness to perform the obligations and responsibilities of a practicing attorney at law.
The process is slightly different for each state, but most are similar. For example, New Jersey's Board of Bar Examiners requires the following:
To practice law in the State of New Jersey, candidates are required to demonstrate their fitness by showing the requisite traits of honesty, integrity, fiscal responsibility, trustworthiness, and a professional commitment to the judicial process and the administration of justice.
Established pursuant to Rule 1:25, the Committee on Character reviews the personal record and reputation of each candidate for admission to the bar of the State of New Jersey to determine fit to practice law. Most states have similar requirements. For example, in California, State Bar staff review each applicant's history to determine if they meet the standards of good moral character as defined by the Rules of the State Bar of California (Admissions Rules, Rule 4.40).
Each candidate files a Certified Statement of Candidate. The State Committee on Character, or similar Committee, reviews and verifies the information in each candidate's statement. Questions will include past employment relationships, educational institutions attended, past residences, driving records, judicial records, liens, debts, misconduct, discipline, accusations, arrests, or convictions.
Each board of bar examiners will also need:
- Credit history reports for all candidates,
- Criminal history checks of all candidates from the FBI and the state police,
- Fingerprints from each candidate processed by the FBI and the state police,
- Complete driver's records from each state or foreign jurisdiction where each applicant has held a license, and
- A certification from the dean of each applicant's law school.
Each candidate is also obligated to amend and supplement the application until their date of admission to the bar.
After reviewing each candidate's character and fitness application and supporting materials and background checks, the state Board either certifies a candidate or recommends withholding certification under the state rules regarding character and fitness.
Dean's Certification and Past Misconduct
Most state character and fitness applications require a certification from your law school or your law school's dean. This documentation certifies your attendance and that you were in good academic and disciplinary standing at your law school. If you have a history of any disciplinary issues or misconduct, your school will inform the board of bar examiners.
The most common allegations faced by law school students include:
Academic misconduct can include:
- Allegations of plagiarism.
- Failing to use quotation marks and citations to cases or legal references.
- Cheating on homework or exams.
- Collaborating with others without permission.
- Using a paper twice without permission.
- Making up data or results.
- Impersonating another student during a test or assignment.
- Sabotaging other students.
- Hiding or destroying resources needed by other students.
- Bribery or blackmail.
Disciplinary issues can also be a problem in law school. These issues might include allegations of criminal acts, sexual harassment, or other misconduct in the student code, including social media violations, cyber harassment, computer or internet crimes, piracy, drugs on campus, theft, assault, and more.
Title IX charges stem from the Education Amendments of 1972 ("Title IX"), 20 U.S.C. §1681 et seq. prohibiting sex-based discrimination at federally funded educational institutions. Title IX allegations can include:
- Sexual assault, battery, or coercion
- Sexual harassment
- Gender discrimination
- Sexually suggestive jokes
- Aggressive or physical sexual advances
- Offensive touching
- Dating or domestic violence
- Non-consensual sex
- Criminal Charges
While in law school, you may also face criminal charges for things that happen off-campus, such as drug offenses, DWI, theft, assault, shoplifting, and more. It's important to note that if the police charge you for something that happens off-campus, you may also face school disciplinary proceedings for the same incident. Offenses under the law are often also violations of the student code of conduct.
It's important to remember that your FBI and state background checks, your driver's records, and your educational records will reveal any criminal history you have or any misconduct allegation you faced at school. You should be upfront and detailed in your application to avoid the implication that you are attempting to hide some misconduct in your background.
Hire an Experienced Student Defense Attorney-Advisor
If you're facing misconduct or disciplinary investigations in law school, you need to defend yourself aggressively. A school conviction could prevent you from being admitted to the bar or practicing law after years of dedication and hard work. You need an experienced student discipline attorney-advisor.
Attorney-advisor Joseph D. Lento has successfully handled academic and other misconduct issues at thousands of schools across the country. Let him help you protect your professional and academic reputation. Contact the Lento Law Firm at 888-636-3686 today.