Character and Fitness

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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.

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 addition, some states require fingerprints.  Fingerprints can be taken by UB Policy via appointment (weekdays between 3:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m.) at no charge for UB staff, faculty and students.

Past Criminal History

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.

New York State Character and Fitness Process

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.  The Department of the Appellate Division where you reside (as determined by your application to take the bar examination) sends out an 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 

New York State Character and Fitness Committees:

Every 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. You should obtain the Form Affidavit as to Legal Employment (PDF) and Form Affidavit of Compliance (PDF) with the 50 hour pro bono requirement as soon as possible after completing such employment, so you will have them available to you when you have to fill out the admission application.

Application for Admission to the Bar and supporting documents may be obtained from the New York State Board of Law Examiner’s site under Admission Information.  Do not fill out the Admission application before you are sent notice to from the Appellate Division, as the form changes periodically.

Once you pass the bar examination, your 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.

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.

Tips for filling out the application

  • 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

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
  • 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.