Bar Admissions Blog

Helping Bar Applicants Prove Character and Fitness for Admission to the Bar

Bad Credit

Q. When my business failed, I fled to law school while leaving unhappy creditors and a mess of unpaid bills behind. Now I owe an extra $60,000 in student loans. Do credit scores count?

A. No, the bar examiners do not require a credit score of 700 or above.

The score itself doesn't matter. The reasons for your poor credit may.

As lawyers, we are expected to demonstrate respect for the law and for our obligations under it. Those who disregard their legal obligations in their personal or professional lives are more likely to ignore their duties as members of the bar.

Bar examiners have also increased their scrutiny of applicants with significant debts out of concern for the temptation that may arise for those in financial crisis. In theory at least, those under financial distress are more likely to steal from their clients than those who are not.

In your case, bar examiners may raise concerns about your decision to flee to law school and incur additional debt while failing to address the needs of existing creditors. This is particularly troubling if you have ignored their payment demands or failed to make any arrangements for meeting your obligations at a later time.

When investigating these concerns, bar examiners must be careful to avoid the impression that they are applying a "means test" for admission to the bar. For many Americans, debt is a fact of life and enrolling in law school only adds to that problem. Furthermore, businesses do fail, honest people do go bankrupt, and some debts may never be repaid no matter how well-intentioned the debtor may be.

If your debts are even remotely within reach, one way to address the issue is to approach your creditors with proposed payment plans. If you are able to make any ongoing contribution toward your balances, this can certainly counter the impression that you lack regard for your legal obligations to them. It may also open the door to the argument that, as a practical matter, the income you will earn as an attorney will enable you to discharge your debts even faster and amount to a "win-win" situation for you and your creditors.

Even if your creditors are unwilling to compromise, showing proof of your good faith efforts to arrange payment plans may assist in showing your respect for the obligations incurred and in proving that you are fit to admit.

Disclosing Expunged Charges
Youthful Indiscretions
 

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When the Maryland Board of Law Examiners, DC Bar Committee on Admissions, or any character committee questions your character and fitness for bar admission, bar applicants should retain an attorney to assist in disclosing information relevant to character and fitness, to guide them through the bar admissions process, and to represent applicants in character committee hearings and in hearings before the Court of Appeals to determine whether they are fit to practice law. Character and fitness concerns may arise in connection with prior criminal convictions, academic dishonesty and honor code violations, addictions, drunk driving, neglected debts, and a failure to disclose material information on law school applications or on bar applications. If you have a history of misconduct, traffic citations, crimes, arrests and other facts to disclose in response to the character portion of the Maryland Bar Application or the DC Bar's NCBE application, you should strongly consider retaining bar admissions counsel if you want to avoid denial of a law license and get a license to practice law. This is even true for applicants for admission to law schools as these applications ask similar questions about character. A failure to disclose facts material to your admission could result in a denial of bar admission.

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By The Lawyer's Lawyers | Kramer & Connolly and  who are responsible for the content of this informational website.