Character & Fitness Requirements
State Bar Character and Fitness Requirements
An applicant’s character and fitness to practice law must be established as a prerequisite for licensure to practice law in any state. Therefore, when you apply to sit for the bar exam, you will be required to provide relevant, detailed background information that will be carefully evaluated by the bar examiners in the state in which you apply. Any information discovered during the course of this background investigation that reflects negatively upon your character and fitness to practice law may be treated as cause for further investigation. Information regarding events that occurred both before and during law school is requested as part of this process.
As part of your bar exam application, many states as that you submit a copy of your law school application. The State Bar’s Character and Fitness Committee will compare your answers to its questions with those provided in your law school application. Discrepancies can result in adverse consequences, so it is imperative that the information you provide on your law school application is accurate and complete. If your answers on your law school application are inconsistent with those on your bar exam application, the Board of Bar Examiners will likely initiate a more intensive review of your file. Should that occur, you may suffer sanctions, including: revocation of law school admission; delay in certification of fitness; or the Board may determine that you are not fit to practice law, which means you will be unable to sit for the bar exam and, subsequently, practice law. Acceptance by Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School does not guarantee certification by any state’s Board of Bar Examiners.
Each state has its own character and fitness requirements. You are encouraged to find out what the admission requirements are for each state in which you intend to practice law. For more information about the character and fitness requirements by state, please consult the National Conference of Bar Examiners website at http://www.ncbex.org/bar-admissions/. To obtain contact information for each state’s Board of Bar Examiners, please visit http://www.barexam.org.
Guidance on Answering the Character and Fitness Questions
The purpose of this guide is to ensure that your answers to all questions on your application for admission are complete and accurate. Full and honest disclosure will greatly assist you when you apply to sit for the bar exam in the state of your choice upon graduation.
Specific guidance pertaining to each of the five character and fitness questions found on the application for admission is provided below. However, two principles must govern as you complete this portion of the application:
- When in doubt, disclose.
- If you have any questions, please email the Office of Admissions at email@example.com or the Office of Student Services at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Remember: Integrity and honesty are fundamental to the community we strive to maintain.
Guidance for Question 1: Social Conduct – Criminal Offenses/ Allegations
Question: Excluding parking violations, have you ever been cited (including the paying of fines, even as a juvenile), detained, arrested, formally accused, or prosecuted for the violation of any law? Note: You must disclose each instance even though the charges may have been dismissed or you were acquitted or allowed to plead nolo contendere or an adjudication was withheld, or you were pardoned or a conviction was reversed, set aside or vacated, or the record sealed or expunged and regardless of whether you have been told you do not need to disclose such an instance. You must provide documentation of each instance.
This question is designed to elicit information about any interaction you have had with the criminal justice system, regardless of the outcome.
In responding, you need to address whether you have ever been accused of or sanctioned for any criminal conduct, regardless of when it occurred. This includes allegations of juvenile criminal conduct. It does not matter if the situation was sent to a diversion program or any other alternative resolution forum, was dismissed before court, was removed from your record after community service was performed, or was expunged or otherwise removed from your record. You must disclose the allegations. In addition, if you were punished, you must also explain the sanctions, whether they were probation, incarceration, community service, curfew or other punishment.
We understand that at the time of the allegations and dispute resolution, a judge, lawyer, adviser or someone else may have told you the matter would be removed from your record or that your record would be sealed. You still must disclose the incident.
While Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School does NOT require that you submit information regarding parking violations, you must submit information about any other traffic offenses for which you received a ticket. A simple recitation of the ticket, approximate date, background, and resolution—including any fines or other sanctions—will suffice.
Sample Scenario: Sean was implicated in an assault at school with a group of friends where a student suffered injuries. As part of the county’s juvenile justice program, he was sent to a diversion program and was required to complete twelve months of community service. The incident never appeared on Sean’s criminal record, and Sean’s attorney informed him that his record would be sealed and that he would not have to disclose the incident to anyone. Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School requires that Sean disclose this incident.
Guidance for Question 2: Financial History
Question: Have you ever been delinquent or in default of any financial obligations, including student loans?
One of the top four areas of concern for most bar examiners is financial responsibility. Each state bar reviews an individual’s application for certain conduct that may result in further inquiry, including any neglect of financial responsibilities or professional obligations. In many instances, having debt is not the concern, but being irresponsible about managing and repaying that debt is more troubling. Therefore, if you have filed for bankruptcy, defaulted on financial obligations (including student loans), or experienced other instances of financial setback, it is crucial that you both explain those instances and provide evidence of renewed financial responsibility. Such evidence can include proof of timely, consecutive payments to a creditor over a notable period of time of at least six months.
Sample Scenario: Prior to applying for law school, Stacy was a home inspector and owned a home inspection company. Stacy’s business began to suffer when the housing bubble “burst” and, subsequently, she closed her business and had to file for bankruptcy. The bankruptcy was ultimately discharged about one year before she applied for law school. Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School requires that Stacy disclose the bankruptcy, the underlying reasons for her having to file bankruptcy, and the discharge.
Guidance for Question 3: Academic and Social Conduct while in college or other post-secondary institution
Question: Have you ever been subject to dismissal, suspension, probation, warning, or other academic or disciplinary sanction by any college, university, or professional school?
This is a two-part question. The first part of the question wants you to address any academic disciplinary action taken against you while in college or in another post-secondary institution. This includes academic probation, warning, reprimand, suspension, expulsion, dismissal, or any other type of academic discipline. Regardless of the resolution, you must disclose. Examples of academic misconduct include—but are not limited to—accusations of using Internet research inappropriately in a class assignment, allegations of inappropriate collaborations on a take-home exam, accusations of misbehavior during an assignment or exam, academic probation, falling below the minimum GPA requirements, academic suspension, expulsion, or any other academic irregularities. We understand that at some schools, allegations and sanctions may be removed from your file after a certain period of time. However, you still must disclose them. If you were found responsible/guilty, describe any sanctions levied against you (failing grade, grade reduction, community service, expulsion, etc.).
The second part of this question deals with any non-academic disciplinary action taken against you. Examples of the kind of behavior that might have resulted in such a sanction include public consumption of alcohol or intoxication, disruptive behavior, or other behavior that violated your school’s conduct policy. Even if the allegation, violation, citation or other reprimand was removed from your record, you must disclose it to Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School.
Sample Scenario 1: During the examination period, Amanda was charged with cheating on her Organic Chemistry examination. Upon further investigation, it was determined that she did not cheat, but that some of the students sitting near her during the exam had done so. All disciplinary charges against her were dismissed. Amanda should disclose this incident and its resolution on the AJMLS admissions application.
Sample Scenario 2: Alex was anonymously reported to the Resident Advisor for playing his radio loudly. The Resident Advisor met with him and he agreed to listen to his radio at a reasonable volume so as not to disrupt the other students in the dormitory. Alex should report this incident on his admissions application.
Guidance for Question 4: Professional Conduct
Question: Have you ever held a professional license which has been subject to disciplinary action, probation, suspension or revocation?
Disclose any instances where you have had a professional license that was placed on probationary status, suspended, or revoked. Professional license includes a license to practice law in another jurisdiction or any other type of professional license that was issued in any jurisdiction. Also include documentation to support a reinstatement of any license that has been subject to disciplinary action.
Sample Scenario: Alexandria was a real estate agent prior to applying to law school. She received a conditional suspension of her license for failure to submit proof of completion of required courses. Alexandria completed the required courses and the conditional suspension was lifted. Alexandria must disclose the conditional suspension on her law school application.
Guidance for Question 5: Military Separation
Question: Have you ever been discharged from Military services? If so, was it a discharge less than an Honorable Discharge?
The manner by which you are discharged from the military can have a lifelong effect on the post-service opportunities that are available to you, including employment opportunities and licensure. While an adverse characterization of your military discharge does not automatically disqualify you from taking the bar examination, it is cause for further inquiry in most states. You must disclose any dishonorable separations you have had from the military.
 See A Model for Dialogue: A Meeting Manual on Character and Fitness Issues for Bar Examiners and Law Schools (2002), available at http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/migrated/2011_build/legal_education/model_dialogue.authcheckdam.pdf. The Bar Admissions Committee of the ABA’s Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar found that a majority of applicants whose character and fitness applications were not approved were disapproved because they failed to disclose relevant information either on their application or during a character and fitness investigation or interview.
 See Lori E. Shaw, Professionalism: What Does it Take to Satisfy Character & Fitness Requirements?, available at http://apps.americanbar.org/abapubs/lrc/pdfs/whatdoestake.pdf. In this article, Ms. Shaw, a professor at the University of Dayton Law School, queried bar examiners nationally about what is important to them when it comes to financial issues.
 See Jerri Nims, Bar Fitness Application, The Docket, November 2002. This article provides an overview of an event sponsored by Georgia State University Law School’s SBA where Hulett Askew, Director of the Georgia Office of Bar Admissions, spoke to students about the bar application process. He recommended that applicants to the bar “take steps to create an evidentiary trail of renewed financial responsibility, such as repaying a creditor for six or more consecutive months.” See id.; see also Kathryn L. Allen & Jerome Braun, Admission to the Bar – Character and Fitness
Considerations, 22 GA. ST. BAR J. 90, 95 (1985). (noting that one of the more common reasons the Georgia Board of Bar Examiners’ Board to Determine Fitness of Bar Applicants asks an applicant to participate in an informal interview is his/her failure to repay or make arrangements to repay government-sponsored student loans).