Recently, CNN published an article focusing on alcohol usage in the legal profession, authored by Patrick Krill Esq., the lead author of an important study that appeared in the Journal of Addiction Medicine. Mr. Krill is an attorney, board certified alcohol and drug counselor who is the director of the Legal Professionals Program at the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation.
The Board of Law Examiners (Board) has the authority to bring charges against a test taker (applicant) for any violation of their rules (22 NYCRR 6000). The violation can be based upon observation by a proctor, a report from exam security, a report by another test taker, or by computer detection software. They do not bring charges lightly, but when they do, it is usually a serious situation.
Section 90 of the Judiciary law states that the Appellate Divisions must “be satisfied” that a candidate for admission possesses the requisite character and fitness to join our profession. This is quite a vague standard; attempting to quantify an equally vague character based value.
It is simple for the Committees to find someone questionable or unfit to practice law. Indicators of dishonesty, self dealing, disrespect for the law and the like will trigger deeper levels of review and/or rejection. But how can you prove your actual fitness?
Of course, the absence of the indicators listed above is paramount. Yet, there are other methods you should know. For example, if there is an arrest in your past, explain it in detail and honestly. Take full responsibility. Show remorse, and if possible, show what you have done to address your behavior or how you given back to the community you may have harmed.
Just keep in mind that a well crafted complete application for admission must “satisfy” the Committees upon initial review. Any serious questions that remain will trigger a hearing; which will trigger, at minimum, a lengthy delay, substantial legal fees, etc.
The moral here? Make sure you submit an application for admission that answers any and all potential questions that it may raise as to your fitness to practice. If you are not certain, discuss the situation with competent counsel before filing.
The reality is that in New York a criminal record is not a bar to admission. Indeed, a criminal charge that would get a lawyer disbarred may not keep a bar applicant from being admitted. The real test is – what was the character of the crime and how did the applicant grow or change subsequent to engaging in that crime?
Our office was able to get an applicant admitted to practice in New York despite having been imprisoned on a felony conviction for a drug based crime that involved the use of a hand gun. A crime of this nature (drugs, guns, and the gross disregard for the safety of others), would ordinarily cause an applicant to be rejected out of hand. However, in this case we were able to demonstrate that the applicant had done a 180 degree turnaround from the time of his conviction.
The Character Committee decided that we were able to prove, despite the applicant’s past conduct, that the applicant possessed the requisite level of fitness to be admitted at the time of the Character Committee review.
So, can you get admitted with a criminal record? The answer is “possibly.” Where the acts are simple, isolated and prior to law school, there is a good chance. Where the conviction is for fraud, theft, or other acts of dishonesty; or for multiple crimes or crimes that show a clear disrespect for the law and the rights and welfare of other people, it is a tougher hurdle. But, it can be done with the right amount of mitigation, acceptance of responsibility, and making sure you take the correct approach when filling out your application for admission and when you appear before the Character Committee.
Law Students and Character and Fitness
Get in and then out of law school, pass the bar, get practicing. That’s the dream. But there is one very important step before it comes true. The Character and Fitness review. Here are a few important Character and Fitness issues to think about now.
Was your law school application completely honest?
If you did not keep a copy of your completed application, get one from school. The Character and Fitness Committee (“Committee”) will have one sent to them. They will compare it to your Application for bar Admission. If there is a discrepancy or any omissions, you will be called to explain them. Further, if you failed to disclose something important on your application to law school, you may be required to amend that application; with the school having the right to revisit their decision to admit you.
Law school discipline?