DC Bar Admission Process
Passing the bar exam isn't enough.
Applicants for admission to the bar must show that they possess the personal qualities required to practice law and have the necessary character to justify the trust and confidence that the public and the legal system will place in them.
Before an applicant will be admitted to the DC Bar, the aspiring lawyer must prove that the applicant has the requisite moral character and fitness to practice law.
This process is governed by Rule 46 of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals and is administered by the DC Bar's Committee on Admissions.
Unlike the character interview used in some states, the DC Bar Admissions Committee does not meet with every bar applicant and there is no interview requirement. But in assessing the moral character and fitness of an applicant, the Committee may require the applicant to appear for an informal hearing before making its recommendation. If the Committee is unwilling to certify an applicant after an informal hearing, it must give the applicant the grounds for its refusal and the option of either withdrawing the application or requesting a formal hearing. Ultimately, the DC Court of Appeals makes the final decision on whether to admit the applicant.
|Application for Admission
The process starts with your submission of an Application for Admission to the Bar, where any error, omission or inconsistency may trigger a closer examination by the Character Committee member assigned to vet your background. If there is anything in your background that may raise issues, you would be wise to consult with an attorney specializing in character and fitness reviews to ensure the proper disclosures and wording before submitting this all-important document. Candid disclosures may not prevent further scrutiny, but they will certainly increase your prospects for admission as the character and fitness process proceeds. The DC Bar application process has two components. Each applicant must create an account on the Committee on Admissions webpage, and complete a Character and Fitness Questionnaire at the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) website. Before hitting the button to submit your application, it is critical that you ensure the accuracy of each and every response.
Although the District of Columbia does not conduct interviews as a matter of course, the Admissions Committee may require an applicant to appear for an informal hearing to review the moral character and general fitness of a bar admissions candidate. Despite the informality, this is not always a friendly process. Denied the opportunity to appear with counsel, applicants may face a large panel of lawyers who may overwhelm them with a barrage of tough questions. Depending upon your circumstances, an experienced bar admissions attorney may advise you to attend an informal hearing, or to waive it in favor of a more formal process where you need not represent yourself.
If the Committee remains unconvinced after an informal hearing and denies certification, it will inform the applicant of the grounds for denial. The applicant will then have 30 days to request a formal hearing or the application will be deemed withdrawn. Since this is an evidentiary hearing on the record, the applicant should retain counsel to examine and cross-examine witnesses and to produce evidence bearing on moral character and fitness to practice law. If the Committee remains unwilling to certify the applicant's admission, it will serve a written report of its findings upon the applicant, who then has 15 days to withdraw the application if he chooses to do so. If the applicant declined to withdraw the application, the Committee will send this report to the DC Court of Appeals.
|Court of Appeals Decision
The District of Columbia's highest court has the last word on whether an applicant shall be admitted as a member of the Bar. If, after receiving the Committee's report, the Court is inclined to deny admission, it will order the applicant to show cause why the application should not be denied. In these cases, the Court will hear oral argument on an applicant's character or fitness, review the record of the Admissions Committee hearing, and issue a written opinion on whether to grant admission to the bar.
This is the ultimate goal of all bar applicants. With patience, persistence and the right counsel, lawyers who once presented serious character and fitness concerns have been able to raise their right hands and lead rewarding careers as members of the DC Bar.