Character and Fitness

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What is Character and Fitness?

Each jurisdiction for which an applicant seeks admission to the bar requires the applicant to submit to a separate Character and Fitness evaluation. This evaluation will require the applicant to provide current and historical education, employment, residential and financial information. It will also ask questions about criminal and school discipline, as well as disability. In addition, applicants will have to provide law-related employment affidavits and character references. Failure to be completely honest and display full candor is a grounds for not being admitted or being disbarred.

Who does the character and fitness evaluation?

The National Council of Bar Examiners (NCBEX) provides Character & Fitness evaluations for some jurisdictions. For this information and links to the Character and Fitness Process for the state you are interested in, visit NCBEX Jurisdictions.

In New York, the Appellate Division of the State Supreme Court will review your character and fitness and determine whether the Department will admit you to the bar as an attorney. 

New York State Character and Fitness Committees:

When do they do the character and fitness evaluation?

Some states, including California, Massachusetts and New Jersey, complete this process as part of the application to take the bar examination; other states, such as New York, wait until after the bar examination.

In New York, every Appellate Division Department except the First Department (New York City and the Bronx) will email you their package prior to your receipt of your bar results.  It will be due at the beginning of October for July bar exam applicants.  The First Department will send the application package once you have passed the bar examination. 

What do they ask?

Please note that the application for admission will ask you questions about your past and present conduct, including education, employment, finances (unpaid child support or debt in arrears), unlawful conduct, drug and alcohol misuse, etc.  For more information, please review “Are You Fit to be a Lawyer” (PDF) from the New York State Bar Association’s Lawyer Assistance Program.  Read "Bar Admission Guide”

What forms do I need?

In New York, the Department of the Appellate Division where you reside (as determined by your application to take the bar examination) sends you a link to the application package which will include:

  • General Instructions
  • Application Questionnaire
  • Form Affidavit as to Moral Character – two are required, one from an attorney
  • Form Affidavit as to Legal Employment – from every legal employment, including clinics and externships not used for the pro bono affidavit
  • Form Affidavit of Compliance with the 50 hour pro bono requirement
  • Form Law School Certificate - different from the one required to take the bar examination 

Once you pass the bar examination, you will receive a certification of passing from the Board of Law Examiners.  This certification as well as any updated information must be sent to the Appellate Division.

Could I complete any of the Application now?

Do not fill out the Application for Admission before you are sent notice to from the Appellate Division, as the form changes periodically.  BUT, what you can complete now:

  • Law-Related Employment and/or Solo Practice Affirmation NOW for any legal work you have done. The form is at located online.  This work includes “ law-related work-study employment, and law-related employment for academic credit only, including participation in law school clinics and externships, and work as a research assistant,” as asked in Question 15 of the “Application for Admission to Practice as an Attorney.”
  • Form Affidavit as to the Applicant’s Compliance with the Pro Bono Requirements when you complete the 50 hour pro bono requirement.  This from is located online.  

Both forms require that your supervising attorney affirm your work.  You should complete the forms as soon as possible after completing such employment, a clinic, externship or research assistantship.  You want to have them available to you when you have to fill out the admission application.  If the supervising attorney leaves a firm or something happens, you do not want to be stuck without the forms.

How do I answer the questions on the Application for Admission to the Bar?

  • Read the question carefully
  • Answer the question asked
  • Be honest – candor is essential, even if it is embarrassing
  • Do not editorialize – just write the facts and the disposition of any criminal or educational discipline.  Editorializing makes it appear that you are not sincere and/or do not accept responsibility for your actions
  • If you run out of space on the form, create an Appendix.  Make sure your name and the questions number and title is on every page.  For example, “C. Employment 15, continued from page 4 of 20.”   Your answers in the Appendix should follow the same format as the question.
  • The New York application consider employment to include Clinics, Externships and Research Assistantships for professor: employment with or without monetary compensation, law-related work-study employment, and law-related employment for academic credit only, including participation in law school clinics and externships, and work as a research assistant.

Was your application to the School of Law accurate?

Some states will ask to see your application to law school.  Make sure you answered all the questions correctly and honestly, particularly any about criminal background and/or school discipline.

Were you disciplined in school, college or law school?

  • Some states, including New York, ask about any school discipline.  New York asks about it from high school on.
  • So, be prepared to discuss any instances of discipline, including but not limited to, academic dishonesty.  You need to be honest to the Character and Fitness Committee.

What if I have an arrest or criminal conviction

Applicants need to disclose all arrests and convictions, even traffic violations and sealed juvenile records. In fifteen states and U.S. Territories, felony convictions may restrict or bar admission to practice. Refer to the state for which you seek admission. In addition, the National Council of Bar Examiners publishes a yearly Bar Admission Guide which is available online.  Remember your ethics – “candor to the tribunal.”

Get a copy of your driver’s abstract from the DMV.  Even if you pled down a moving violation and it is not on the driver’s abstract, you MUST disclose it.

What if I do not remember the exact dates or facts of an incident?

If you do not recall the exact dates or facts of an incident, research it to the best of your ability.  Ask a school for records, ask you parents, get records from a government agency.  If there are none, then state that.  Use the term “upon information and belief” with the facts you know and explain what you did to try to find the actual facts.

Will my debts prevent me from being admitted?

The Character and Fitness Committee knows almost all law graduates have significant student loan debt.  However, the Committee will be concerned if you have excessive credit card debt, a debt that is in default, or a recent bankruptcy.  Plan now to get your finances in order.  Make sure you have a payment plan and are in compliance with it to manage your debt.

What would make me not be admitted to the bar due to character and fitness?

  • Felony convictions will bar you from admission in Kansas Mississippi, Texas and the Northern Mariana Islands
  • Convictions or educational dismissals for dishonesty, especially felony convictions involving fraud and misappropriation of funds
  • Serious amounts of debt in default without a payment plan or a recent bankruptcy.
  • Current mental disabilities not under control through treatment or medication.
  • Current alcohol and substance abuse issues, DWI’s in law school.
  • Some states (not New York) have conditional admission for substance abuse, mental disability, criminal history and debt.

What if I need fingerprints?

While New York does not, some states require fingerprints.  Fingerprints can be taken by UB Police by appointment at no charge for UB staff, faculty and students.  Call them at 716-645-2227 at 2:30 p.m. for an appointment on the day you want to have your fingerprints taken.  Appointments are available only on weekdays between 3:00 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.  You must bring the unsigned fingerprint card and a government-issued photo identification to the appointment.