The Moral Character Application is routine for most students. However, if you have some sort of past problem, the application will take longer to consider. You will probably be asked to explain things. And you will probably be called in for a personal interview.
So, complete the form carefully. If there are gaps, don't ignore them; the Bar certainly won't. And do keep a copy of everything you send the Bar, and everything the Bar sends you.
When to Hire Counsel
You should think about employing an attorney if you have a criminal conviction, suffered student discipline, have been involved in litigation, or have had to deal with a formal administrative proceeding.
Your story can be told well or badly, but it has to be told. We've done this before and we are pretty good at helping you find your voice. We help you tell your story to Bar Examiner Committee members who have heard it all and heard it often.
Criminal Convictions do not automatically disqualify you
We regularly advise and represent students with past criminal convictions. We help you describe how you got involved in the crime, what changes you have made to your life, what you have learned.
The more serious your crime, and the more recent, the more difficult it will be to gain admission.
Civil Suits and Administrative Matters
Yes, you have to disclose everything from that fraud trial to the small claims dispute over the fender bender. A DMV hearing or a contested unemployment insurance claim also count. These are rarely trouble in the moral character process, but they become a problem when you don't report them, or if you report inaccurately.
There are some items that do not have to be reported, but only if there is a very specific legal basis to decline to report. Don't guess.
Hidden Trap: Law School and College applications
The State Bar will sometimes check you Moral Character Application against your law school applications. f you did not disclose something on one that has to be reported on the MCA, then how you explain it is often more important that your earlier failure.
The cover up is worse than the crime
We cannot over emphasize two principles. (A) People with troubled pasts can demonstrate that they are presently of good moral character and get admitted. (B) The failure to disclose even a past minor grade problem escalates it to major present doubt as to your character.
Keep a Copy of everything
You are often asked to explain something on your original application, or to update it. It's lot easier to do so if you keep a copy of what you sent in.
UPL: Another Hidden Trap
Until you are actually admitted to practice, you cannot use such terms as "Esq." or "General Counsel" or "Associate" to describe your present job. Nor does it count if your employer knows you are not admitted. Otherwise you engage in UPL, the Unauthorized Practice of Law.
If you are a lateral transfer, there are certain disclaimers that should be on your law firm's website, along with your stationery, to avoid this trap.
Don't Shoot Yourself in the foot
The Moral Character Application is more important than the Bar Exam. If you flunk the Bar Exam, you get to take it again with a clean slate. If your moral character is turned down, you have to start again PLUS explain whatever kept you out the last time.
So, complete the form carefully, honestly, and completely. When in doubt, hire counsel. And do keep a copy of everything.
Additional resources provided by the author
Until 1989, all published cases were only in the case law, when published by the California Supreme Court. Since then, most recent reported cases involving moral character applicants are published in the State Bar Court Reporter.
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