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Moral character and the California Bar: 6 key tips to follow

Any attorney who wants to practice in California has to meet a morality test -- fail it, and all those hours spent in law school and studying for the Bar exam mean absolutely nothing.

Before you initiate the process to start your background check, make sure that you know the following information:

1. It takes at least six months to get through the morality part of the background check -- which means that if you wait much longer than the start of your third year of school, you could be sitting around unemployed and unable to take the Bar until the check is complete.

2. If you have anything at all that might be problematic in your past -- whether it was something like you got caught plagiarizing a paper during your first year in college to a drug arrest during grad school -- you want to file much sooner. It will take you longer than the usual six months to get through the process.

3. Do not lie, omit information or try to color the truth in a light more favorable to you. Any of those actions are an indication of poor moral character -- they show an unwillingness to own up to one's past acts and accept responsibility for the potential consequences.

4. The problems that often require referral to the Committee of Bar Examiners for additional questions include some relatively common situations:

  • A history of arrest or conviction for drunk and disorderly behavior
  • A drug arrest or conviction
  • A history that is rife with financial problems, like multiple bankruptcies or a lot of unpaid bills
  • Issues with drug or alcohol addiction
  • Suspensions or reprimands for violating University honor codes

Having one of these issues on your record does not automatically mean that you can't meet the moral character requirement.

5. The Committee is going to closely examine what you've done regarding any "black mark" that mars your application. For example, if you have a bankruptcy, the fact that you've kept your debt under control since then shows that you've learned from the experience. Multiple bankruptcies might not even stop you if you can show that they were unavoidable -- like those caused by extreme medical hardships.

6. If you are concerned that the moral character portion of the Bar application will stop you from receiving your professional license, an attorney with experience in these particular issues can help.

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