Because your job as a lawyer requires you to speak and act in the name of your client, your conduct and reputation are important for the wellbeing of the client, your personal practice and for the integrity of the legal profession. If you have recently faced disciplinary action and now must apply for a moral character determination before the Committee of Bar Examiners of the State Bar of California, you know there is much on the line for your future.
The legal profession carefully protects its reputation as well as protecting the public from attorneys who may be a threat to a client’s wellbeing. Because of this, as part of the process of applying for admission to practice law, seeking readmittance after disciplinary actions or applying for admission from another state, the Committee will evaluate your history to determine if you have the moral character to be an attorney.
Proving your rehabilitation
In the public eye, lawyers unfairly have a bad rap. In fact, you will not be admitted to practice law until you can demonstrate high moral qualities including honesty, reverence for the law and trustworthiness in fiduciary duties. During its examination, the Committee will be looking for any actions in an applicant’s past that suggest the applicant is indifferent to other people’s rights or feels the law does not apply to him or her, for example:
- Ongoing allegations of fraud
- Violations of the honor code of an educational institution
- Actions resulting in expulsion from school or professional discipline
- Omissions or misrepresentations of critical information on your application for a moral character determination
- Criminal convictions, especially those relating to violent crimes or felony breach of fiduciary duty
If any of these is the reason the Bar suspended your license to practice law, your only chance of gaining readmittance is to overwhelmingly prove that you have been rehabilitated. In other words, your actions must go far beyond normal activities of a good life, such as holding a job, getting married and performing pro bono work, since these actions are reasonable for anyone. In addition to these, the Committee will look for the following and others:
- Strong evidence that you made amends and restitution to anyone you may have harmed with your actions
- Completion of your court orders, such as incarceration, probation, fines and others
- Participation in programs of self-improvement
- Professional counseling
- Abstinence from drugs and alcohol
- Participation in community service organizations, social organizations or church activities
Depending on the circumstances of your disciplinary actions, the Committee may expect different examples of rehabilitation, and your attorney can counsel you on the best way to proceed with preparing your application. The more serious the offense, the more challenging your moral character determination may be. Having experienced counsel can make a difference.