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

Character Interviews

Q. I'm really nervous. I'm scheduled for an interview before a member of the character committee. Is this common? Should I have a lawyer with me? How should I handle this?

A. There are a few states like Maryland that interview everyone. But most character committees and licensing boards will schedule interviews before one or more members when issues warrant. Some will hold group interviews with an applicant which they refer to as preliminary or informal "hearings."

Regardless of what they call it, character interviews give you a chance to show candor and contrition in addressing past mistakes while building rapport with those considering your admission to the bar.

Bringing a lawyer to such a meeting is not required. Some jurisdictions may view it as a standard practice, while others may frown upon it.

Whether to bring a lawyer along depends on your individual circumstances and preferences — and, more importantly, the preferences of the bar examiners you appear before. Either way, you should not make these decisions without the advice of an experienced bar admissions attorney.

Given your anxiety, I surmise that you anticipate some hard questions. Even if you don't have a lawyer by your side while answering them, you would be wise to consult with counsel beforehand.

This is not an interview in which applicants want to "wing-it." Favor preparation over improvisation. With your lawyer's help, you must thoroughly prepare for this encounter as follows:

Review Your Application — Study the contents of your bar application, including any disclosures or explanations you provided regarding your background or past misconduct. The interviewers may refer to specific information in your application and ask for further elaboration or clarification. While there may be details you do not recall, applicants who use a lack of memory as a crutch will not make a credible impression. You, more than anyone else, should come prepared with the details of your own history;

Engage in Self-Reflection — Reflect on your personal and professional journey, including any challenges you have faced. Consider how you have grown, learned from those experiences, and taken steps to address any issues or concerns. Why do you want to be a lawyer? What can you contribute to society if granted a license to practice law? Think about your motivations for pursuing a legal career and the ethical principles that guide your professional aspirations;

Research the Bar Examiners — Your lawyer will give you a good understanding of the licensing board you are applying to, including its mission, values, and the criteria it uses to assess character and fitness for admission. If you know what members will be conducting your interview, you and your counsel should learn more about them before you go in;

Anticipate Potential Questions — You cannot predict all of the questions they'll ask you, but you can prepare for most. Consider potential areas of inquiry on your background, past misconduct, character, ethical decision-making, and commitment to the legal profession. Reflect on how you would answer these questions, providing honest and thoughtful responses;

Practice Your Responses — Practice answering questions in mock interviews with your counsel. This will help you refine your answers, improve communication skills, and gain confidence in discussing sensitive subjects. Naturally, you do not want to appear rehearsed. But a couple of trial runs will help you to refine your approach and avoid comments that may be misperceived;

Demonstrate Growth — When asked about the lessons learned from past mistakes, discuss the specific changes you have made to overcome these challenges and the steps that you have taken to improve personally and professionally. As actions speak louder than words, show more than mere contrition;

Present a Professional Demeanor — Dress appropriately, maintain eye contact, and exhibit good communication skills. Show respect and attentiveness to the interviewers, actively listening and responding thoughtfully to their questions. Take your time. This isn't a game show where you must buzz in with a fast answer. Do not talk faster than the speed of thought;

Maintain Composure — Approach the interview with confidence but also with a sense of humility. Be honest, genuine, and self-reflective in your responses. If you feel nervous, take a deep breath and remind yourself of your strengths and qualifications. Be contrite, but don't be defensive. Own up to past mistakes without playing the blame game or offering hollow excuses. Some interviewers may sound gruff, judgmental or disapproving. But remember that these seemingly loaded questions are often designed to test your composure and professionalism under fire.

Prepare for the interview, but don't arrive with canned or prepared remarks. Let the bar examiners guide the conversation. Keep it conversational in tone, listen carefully to the questions asked, and do your best to answer them openly and honestly. Even if you are given an opportunity to make a statement, keep it concise and conversational in tone. The interview is a chance to develop rapport — not to make a speech.

You should view this interview as an opportunity, not as an imposition. If you prepare properly and approach it with the right attitude, this encounter will put a human touch on your application, show your current character and show your readiness to enter the legal profession.

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