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Understand how moral character statements work

If you're applying to the State Bar in California, one of the things you have to do is provide evidence of your good moral character.

It sounds a little like you're assumed to have a bad moral character and have to prove the assumption wrong. Unfortunately, in a way that's true.

Your background will be researched carefully -- so carefully that a six month wait isn't uncommon. That's something that many new applicants, fresh out of law school, are unprepared for -- which can make for a long, uncomfortable wait while you try to live without your law license. Once the bar has finished picking apart every aspect of your life as carefully as possible, your moral character essentially faces the following tests:

1. Are you candid and honest about your past?

The older you are, the more likely you've made mistakes in the past that could be considered moral failings. That includes things like problems with debt, bankruptcy, arrests for public intoxication or any minor thing. The reviewers understand that you may have made mistakes but they're examining your record to see if you've learned from the mistakes. Was your bankruptcy really unavoidable due to poor health or do you need to take responsibility for poor spending habits? Was your arrest a one-time event when you were a teenager? Do you acknowledge your own fault?

2. Do you have a clear respect for the law?

If you have a history that involves multiple instances of arrest, you'll need to work extra hard to convince the Bar that you have a newly discovered respect for the law. The longer the gap between the last instance of arrest and your application, naturally, the better -- but you may want to seek advice from an administrative law attorney about how to best present your case.

3. Have you demonstrated trustworthiness elsewhere?

Anything that you can use to show your inherent trustworthiness -- whether you serve as the treasurer for a community organization or are a deacon in your church can help your case. It's particularly important that you show yourself in a good light if you have any questionable instances in your past. Being accepted in your community as a figure of trust and responsibility is always helpful.

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