Once you pass the bar exam, you’re almost—but not quite—on your way to practicing law. You still need to demonstrate good moral character.
For most candidates, the assessment is largely a matter of good documentation. You need to make sure you represent your past accurately. Failing to disclose any concerns may count against you, and only about 35% of all candidates pass the assessment on the first review. But for others, the moral character assessment may raise more serious concerns.
Making amends for past failures
People whose records show a history of crime, indiscretions or dishonesty may struggle with the California State Bar’s moral character assessment. But they may still pass. The question becomes whether they can show that they’ve acknowledged the errors of their past and changed their ways.
However, it’s often not enough for these people to “change their ways” in spirit. The State Bar typically wants to see that they’ve changed their ways through action. Reviewers expect to see acts of good to make up for past wrongs. The more serious their past failures, the more these candidates may need to focus on their rehabilitation.
As the State Bar notes on its website, it weighs several factors when determining how well someone’s rehabilitation offsets their past failings. These include:
- The seriousness of the wrongs, including any aggravating or mitigating circumstances
- Whether there was a pattern of wrongdoing
- How old you were when you demonstrated poor judgment
- How long you’ve since gone without similar misconduct
- What you’ve done to make amends to anyone you harmed
- If your misconduct was related to drugs or alcohol, your demonstrated abstinence from the substance
- Successful completion of any service and payment of any fines related to the activity
- Your completion of a self-improvement course related to the behavior
- Charitable work and community involvement
- Character witnesses who can speak to the improved state of your current attitudes and behaviors
The State Bar may also consider other evidence, but it wants evidence of your improvement. Just as you need to argue your cases based on the law and the facts, the State Bar wants to make its assessment of your moral character based on the requirements and the facts.
True rehabilitation takes effort
As the California Supreme Court pointed out in one review of moral character, rehabilitation isn’t a matter of simply going through the motions. If the facts continue to suggest a whiff of dishonesty or disingenuity, the State Bar may deny you.
Accordingly, when you have wrongs in your past, you want a genuine way to make them right. You want a plan you can follow for the long term.