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Bar Admissions Blog

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

Second Chances

Q. I've made many mistakes in my life, but I've worked hard to overcome the past. How can I prove that I'm not the same person anymore?

A. Before investing for the future, the common prospectus warns that "past performance does not guarantee future results." But without any other data to review, licensing boards must examine your past indiscretions before investing in your future with a license to practice law.

The ultimate question is not whether your background has always been pristine, but whether you have the present character and fitness needed to represent future clients. To answer that question in the affirmative, bar applicants must prove that they have overcome the past, learned from their mistakes, and stand ready to join a profession requiring uncompromising integrity.

To meet this burden, applicants with a history of misconduct or character concerns must do more than pledge that they've "turned over a new leaf." Actions speak louder than words. Remorse for past mistakes must be coupled with a proven track record of rehabilitation and personal growth.

Working with your counsel, you will need to build a strong case to prove that you have grown into a professional worthy of admission to the bar. This "rehabilitation résumé" will require:

Self-Reflection — Take the time to ponder your past mistakes and understand the impact they had on you and  on others. Develop a genuine understanding of the consequences of your actions and the lessons learned from those experiences;

Accountability — Accept responsibility for your past mistakes and acknowledge any harm caused. Show that you have taken ownership of your actions and have made efforts to rectify the harm to the best of your ability;

A Commitment to Personal Growth — Highlight the steps you have taken to better yourself and address the underlying causes. This could include participating in therapy, counseling, or relevant support groups;

Positive Behavior and Contributions — Engage in activities that demonstrate your dedication to personal and professional growth. Volunteer work, community involvement, or contributions to causes that align with your values may illustrate your commitment to making a positive impact;

Character References — Obtain character reference letters from individuals who understand the full nature of your misconduct and can vouch for your rehabilitation. Rather than providing hollow accolades, these individuals should be able to share specific instances which illustrate your positive qualities, maturity, and moral character;

Transparency — Your bar application must recite your past mistakes with utmost candor. Provide complete and accurate information, ensuring that you fully comply with the disclosure requirements of the application; and

Time and Consistency — Show that your past mistakes are not reflective of your current character by maintaining a consistent track record of positive behavior over an extended period. Demonstrate that your growth and commitment to personal change are sustained and ongoing. Though you want to be admitted as soon as possible, there are some applicants who would be better advised to let some time pass before moving forward. This is something you must discuss with qualified bar admissions counsel.

Each applicant is unique. Evaluating each applicant on a case-by-case basis, licensing boards are more interested in the actions you have taken to confront your challenges than in self-serving claims to have learned from them.

Past performance may not guarantee success. But before investing in your future, bar examiners expect to see performance to overcome the past.

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