There have been recent changes to the Character and Fitness process.
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.
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 uses one application for Admission to the Bar which is available on the New York State Board of Law Examiners website at: Admission (nybarexam.org)
New York State Character and Fitness Committees:
Outside of New York State, 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.
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.
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”
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.