All law students must complete the California moral character application process. Generally, the process begins during the third year of law school. Unless the process is successfully completed, you will not be able to sit for the bar. The purpose of the moral character application process is to determine if you are an individual of good moral character.
Of course, not everyone who goes to law school does so with a squeaky clean background. We can all think of at least one underdog story of a lawyer who started off with a past who clearly went on to make a better life. While you know that it is possible to get through the California moral character application process without having the perfect background, the real question is: how? Here are four tips to help you successfully complete the process the first time.
Understand Which Incidents Matter for the California Moral Character Application Process
The California moral character application process assesses your honesty. If you’ve worked really hard to change your life, it’s tempting to consider the possibility of minimizing certain issues. While we’ll discuss the importance of being candid about certain issues in another tip, you must understand that certain incidents are more important than others.
If you were involved in any sort of incident that was classified as dishonesty, it matters. This includes, but is not limited to, crimes involving fraud such as embezzlement, extortion, larceny, or tax evasion. Other crimes also matter, but the State Bar of California is incredibly concerned about crimes involving dishonesty.
Drug and alcohol related arrests could also be an issue. The committee could be concerned about a potential addiction even if you only made one bad decision. However, lawyers are prone to substance abuse; substance abuse is a common cause of ethics complaints.
A previous issue related to another professional license could also be a concern for the committee. This could be as minor as you ignored a continuing education issue. It could be that you ignored professional rules that caused a disciplinary investigation or action to take place, regardless of whether it resulted in the loss of your license. Lawyers have a professional responsibility to complete continuing education as well as to follow professional ethics in every jurisdiction in which they are admitted.
Non-criminal matters such as academic dishonesty are also considered as well.
And if you do not disclose this information? It causes an entirely different problem: an informal conference. Don’t let its name fool you. It is not informal. In fact, it is incredibly formal…and frightening. To improve your chances of avoiding an informal conference and passing the moral character application, it is important to follow the remainder of the tips presented.
Start the Process Early
It takes approximately six months to complete the moral character application process. Because these applications are reviewed by hand, consider whether you need to start the process earlier so that you can still sit for the bar at the end of your third year. It may be necessary for you to start your application during your second year so that you get everything resolved in time to sit for the bar when you expect to sit for the bar. Starting the process early is one of the best possible things that you can do to save yourself time, money, and stress.
Be Candid about Potential Issues
It can be tempting to downplay things from your past or not even mention them at all. After all, everyone makes mistakes. You’ve worked hard to turn your life around. You’re in law school. You’re doing well. The last thing you really want anyone to do is drag up the past.
Before you decide to not mention that one tiny thing that you think shouldn’t matter, you should get advice from a trusted professor or dean from your law school about it. The last thing you want or need is to make it appear to the California Bar that you’re being dishonest because the moral character application is all about determining if you’re of moral character. Lying or appearing as if you’re lying could cause your application to be delayed or for you to be summoned to an informal hearing. Remember that if your application is delayed or rejected, you won’t sit for the bar when you planned to sit for the bar.
It’s imperative that you’re candid with the committee about potential issues. While that can be a terrifying thought, that brings us to what is our most important tip.
Get Help with the California Moral Character Application
If you have potential issues that could cause your California moral character application to be delayed, it’s important that you get help with the process. Zavieh Law can review your moral character application to help better guide you through the process or even help you put together your initial consultation. To learn more about how Megan Zavieh can help you, schedule your consultation now.