Common Character Concerns: Are You Fit to Admit?
Skeletons in your closet and past indiscretions may prompt questions which require the attention of experienced bar admissions counsel.
Character Committees look to an applicant's history to determine whether the person will be fit to practice law in the future. In such investigations, honesty is paramount and a failure to disclose material facts, no matter how embarrassing or problematic, will greatly jeopardize the applicant’s chance of practicing law.
While a failure to disclose can be fatal, candidates with a history of criminal offenses and other infractions are often admitted to the bar if they can provide convincing evidence of rehabilitation. In Maryland, the District of Columbia and virtually all jurisdictions, bar examiners, character committees and courts are more likely to excuse past indiscretions if they are, indeed, a part of the individual's past. However, problems often arise when the applicant has shown a continuing pattern of misconduct – especially when that pattern continues after the person has been admitted to law school.
While not an exhaustive list, most character and fitness issues arise from the following:
- Criminal Offenses - a single marijuana possession charge back in college won't preclude your admission. But multiple crimes, or very serious offenses involving dishonesty or violence, may raise concerns about your respect for the law itself. This is particularly true if the pattern continues into law school or beyond, as this will belie evidence of rehabilitation;
- Financial Irresponsibility - like criminal misconduct, a person with a history of eluding creditors or a failure to pay taxes shows a certain disregard for his legal obligations. This is even true of those with numerous unpaid parking tickets or a range of other debts. Because respect for the law is important in practicing law, it is likewise important to bar admissions committees. Financial instability, including credit problems and prior bankruptcies, also raises concerns that, as a lawyer, the individual may present greater risks when dealing with a client's money or charging for time spent on a case;
- Civil Lawsuits - if you have been sued in the past, you will need to disclose the nature of the litigation on your bar application. The details may raise concerns about excessive debts, allegations of fraud or dishonesty, respect for legal obligations, and other misconduct;
- Academic Misconduct - particularly honor code violations reflect on an applicant’s honesty and are sure to raise questions about the person's fitness to practice law;
- Driving History - getting an occasional speeding ticket will not send you on a detour, but a lengthy history of such offenses may show a disregard for the rule of law and prompt further inquiry. Repeated drunk or reckless driving convictions raise greater concerns;
- Sexual Misconduct - even if it did not result in a conviction, documented instances of sexual misconduct or domestic violence, including temporary restraining orders issued against you, will increase concerns;
- Addictions - if you suffer from an addiction that has adversely affected your behavior in the past, the character review will delve into your recovery program to determine whether it may still pose an impediment to the practice of law;
- Misrepresentations - on law school applications, applications for admission to the bar or other documents. For out-of-state lawyers seeking admission to the Maryland Bar or to the DC Bar, the character review will closely scrutinize any professional discipline imposed in other states;
- Failure to Disclose - if you omit facts which are material to your fitness to practice law, or submit an application which contains misleading information, you run the risk of being denied admission.
None of these problems are insurmountable. But, considering what is at stake, you would be well-advised to seek counsel with experience in the bar admissions process when completing your application, responding to character and fitness concerns, or participating in hearings.