In 2018, there were approximately 1.34 million lawyers in the United States according to Statista. No matter what state you live in, no matter what school you attend, following your graduation from law school, you will need to meet the requirements laid out by the state you plan to practice in, to be a licensed attorney. It’s never too early to start the process of preparing for your application for the bar, and many people actually start that process before even starting law school. Many students are not even aware of the character and fitness background check which they will be subjected to, however it is a vital aspect in the approval to the bar. The most effective way to get through this process is to start early and be ahead of the game when preparing your application.
Every U.S. jurisdiction requires applicants to complete the Character and Fitness background check questionnaire in some form. The character and fitness background check most commonly inquires about criminal and civil violations, credit and financial concerns, educational and employment verification, and other disciplinary concerns. Based on the power given to an attorney to initiate lawsuits, represent clients, and issue subpoenas, the same jurisdiction wants to be sure those abilities are not handed out to just anyone.
The examination conducted by each jurisdiction is handled either by the State Bar, or through the National Council of Bar Examiners (NCBEX). It is up to the applicant to prove their “good moral character,” though it is always better to be open and honest about past issues than to attempt to conceal them. Keep in mind, that further investigation into any prior issues does not mean you will be denied. The examiner would be more likely to deny an applicant for omitting pertinent information, failing to correct mistakes on the application, or concealing / being dishonest during the screening process. Most jurisdictions have established statutes explaining their definition of “good moral character and fitness” and going against it is one of the most direct ways to ensure denial.
Most states differ in when they want applicants to begin the character and fitness background check process, where some are looking for you to register while still in the first couple years of law school, and others not until after taking the state bar exam. Regardless of the jurisdiction’s requirements, it is always easier to add portions to a completed background than to conduct the report as a whole. Starting early and getting all the information needed to complete the questionnaire well before it is needed, and then adding additional information as needed can lessen the burden with every other portion of the process going on.
The character and fitness background check questionnaire is quite lengthy and is not something that can be completed in a day. It’s going to require quite a bit of detailed information that is not likely to be immediately available to you. Using an investigator to run this particular check on you can help immensely, as its their job to locate and document this information on a daily basis. They will know where to look, and how most accurately and expediently to acquire it. You already have enough going on with getting ready for school, studying, preparing for the bar exam; adding in attempting to collect and report all of this adds an unnecessary burden.
Obviously providing everything you have to the investigator is a big start. The more they have to go on from the beginning will mean they can more accurately gather your information and get it back to you in a time frame you need. The other important thing to know is that there is no magic database that catalogs all of your work history or some other personal information, so the more you can provide the better.
This is more than just the standard 5-year resume and background that most jobs look into, as this application will want everywhere you attended school since high school, all your previous and current employment, and every address you have lived at since your teens. Additionally, they are not only looking for your criminal and civil records, but every interaction with the police, traffic stops and citations. Military service records, overseas addresses, licenses in other professions, and businesses you owned are all examples of additional items that the jurisdiction will want records of, and an investigator will be able to help you locate that information.
At the end of the day, the most important thing in this process is providing absolutely accurate information on the character and fitness background check questionnaire. Do not guess, and do not estimate. If / when those dates are verified and found to be inaccurate, the board can look at it as deceitful, resulting in a delay in the processing of the application or possible denial based on your character and fitness.
If you have any questions about the process, ask your investigator. They are there to relieve that burden for you, and make the process smooth and easy. Remember; the earlier you get started on the process, the easier it will be to have things in place when the time comes. Give us a call today to help start the process to help you get to the next step to becoming an attorney.