It’s the time of year when law students complete the required steps to file their moral character application. Generally, the six-month processing time places the student to right about the same time that they receive their bar exam results. Yet, what about the bar application and past arrests? Past arrests won’t necessarily stop law students from becoming a lawyer, but the process takes longer and can be stressful.
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What Matters for Bar Applications and Past Arrests?
There are several types of past arrests that may cause delays in processing a moral character bar application. Crimes involving dishonesty, drugs, or alcohol can all result in a delay and a closer look at the application and the applicant.
What you should and shouldn’t list on the moral character application can, sometimes, act like a slippery slope. In the name of honesty, you may disclose something unnecessary that still triggers the committee to pull your application for closer review. If you fail to disclose something you should or if the investigation brings up something that you should have disclosed, that also causes its own issue.
What Is the Process of Review for Past Arrests?
If your moral character bar application is pulled for review because of past arrests, it will take longer than the six-months timeframe. If you’re a 2L and you think that you may have some potential past arrests that could cause an issue, file your moral character bar application early. This provides more time to get through the review process. If you wait until you’re a 3L, you’re taking a serious risk.
First, you’ll get a letter from the bar that states they cannot complete the processing within the usual timeframe. It’s likely you won’t get this letter until sometime after the six-month period has ended. You’ll be asked for more information that you will provide as a written response.
If the investigative committee isn’t happy with the additional information, you’re “invited” to an “informal conference.” Attendance is mandatory, and it’s not very informal. The meeting is held on the record and they record it. During the “informal conference,” they will use the word “hearing.” It can be a very stressful experience.
After the conference, you’ll be notified whether you’ve attained clearance. Clearance is the last step you need so that you can be sworn in. However, you could also receive a negative determination that tells you that you weren’t cleared. If you receive that letter, you do have the right to appeal it. However, appealing is costly and it can take quite a bit of time.
Passing the Moral Character Bar Application the First Time
One of the most important things you can do if you have past arrests is to talk with a legal ethics defense lawyer about reviewing your moral character application and guiding you through the process. This can help you pass the moral character application the first time and avoid the long, drawn out process.