Character and Fitness

Qualifications for Admission to the Bar

In addition to a bar examination, there are character, fitness, and other qualifications for admission the bar in every U.S. jurisdiction. Applicants are encouraged to determine the requirements for any jurisdiction in which they intend to seek admission by contacting the jurisdiction. Addresses for all relevant agencies are available through the National Conference of Bar Examiners. 

Entirely separate from any exam, state bar examiners will ask applicants to provide detailed information related to their character and fitness. The inquiry into character and fitness is designed to ensure applicants can safely be entrusted with the professional responsibility of representing clients. The law is a profession, and in many ways lawyers are to their clients like doctors are to their patients.

The vast majority of applicants meet the character and fitness standards based on a paper review, but in most states only after the sometimes arduous task of gathering the relevant information and submitting it to the examiners.   In certain circumstances, bar examiners will require a hearing to consider the character and fitness of an applicant. While it is impossible to generalize in a thorough manner, examiners in most states are likely to require a hearing where there is a history of substance abuse; felony convictions; gross dereliction of financial responsibilities; or falsification of documents, including, most importantly, the failure to disclose relevant, responsive information on the bar application itself. Three states (Mississippi, Missouri, and Texas) have an absolute bar to the admission of applicants with felony convictions.

Character and fitness standards and practices vary widely by state. Find out as early as possible--at least a few months before your state's application is due--what material you will have to gather and submit for your character and fitness review. In some instances it could take an extended period of time for you to obtain responsive information such as criminal records, driving records, employment records, etc. Some states expect much more than do others. Find out what your state's bar examiners expect by consulting their website or calling their office.